Preventing Healthcare Workplace Violence
As instances of healthcare workplace violence have increased in recent years, many practice managers are left asking: how do we protect ourselves?
Workplace violence is not new to the healthcare industry – although it has been the subject of some recent and tragic headlines.
Last winter, a mass shooting at Chicago’s Mercy Hospital killed four – including a physician and a pharmacy resident. The shooter that day was the former fiancé of the murdered physician, the shooting an aftershock of his refusal to accept her decision to leave the relationship. Just weeks later, another domestic dispute led to a shooting at a Kansas hospital.
According to the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), U.S. healthcare workers have accounted for roughly two-thirds of all non-fatal workplace violence victims over the past decade. Recent shootings have stoked fears that the industry remains vulnerable to more violence.
Implementing a workplace violence prevention policy
Healthcare workplace violence describes a wide spectrum of conduct, including not just mass shootings but also sexual harassment, verbal abuse, physical assault, and armed robbery. A practice’s specialty and patient population can help to assess vulnerabilities to particular threats. For example, a pharmacy or pain clinic may be more susceptible to robbery by a member of the public, a counseling center for domestic violence victims may be most at risk of violence or threats stemming from domestic disputes, and a family planning clinic may be most at risk of politically-motivated violence.
When implementing a workplace violence prevention plan, a practice manager must consider potential threats of violence stemming from: the public, their patients, their employees, their patients’ friends or family, and their employees’ friends or family.
A comprehensive workplace violence policy should be implemented by the practice, in coordination with its legal counsel. The practice should conduct regular staff training to ensure that the workforce is educated about potential risks and responses. A typical workplace violence policy includes:
- Prohibited conduct within the workplace,
- Thorough procedures for reporting someone’s prohibited conduct or dangerous behavior,
- Safety codes that are easy to for workplace personnel to understand (i.e.: code pink or code black for different emergencies),
- Emergency alert and communication directives to ensure that personnel are made quickly aware of the threat and emergency services are notified.
Practical drills can help with threat response
In addition to maintaining written policies, a healthcare practice should also practice drills to help its workforce understand appropriate responses to emergencies. Common protocols and drills include:
- Evacuation plan in response to violence or threatened violence in the facility,
- Active shooter response drills,
- Facility lockdown in response to violence or threatened violence immediately nearby the practice.
Another way in which you can protect your workplace from violence is by practicing drills or other protocols in the case of an emergency situation. This can look like creating an evacuation plan, possible ideas on what to do in the case of an active shooter, and more. Moreover, the most basic way to protect your workplace is by having an advanced security system. An advanced security system can help to protect armed robberies in the workplace which in turn can also protect confidential patient information. Managers/owners should routinely assess the functionality of these advanced security systems and change passcode and keys to ensure that no one besides the delegated individuals has access to the security codes.
Workplace violence does not only occur in large workplaces but can also occur in smaller settings. Depending on the size and the employer’s assessment of risk, it’s crucial to host either monthly, quarterly, or annual meetings with staff to make certain that everyone knows what to do in the case of a workplace emergency.
Ways to reduce violence
A workplace violence prevention policy can be incorporated into an employee handbook so that everyone is aware of the practice’s existing policies. Awareness is one of the most important tools, because it can help to prompt staff to instinctively respond to suspected or emergency instances of workplace violence. An awareness of how they should react can sometimes decide or affect the outcome of a situation.
You can also reduce the incidence of violence in your workplace by conducting thorough background checks for all workplace staff to ensure that no employees or contractors pose a potential harm to any other staff members, patients, or clients that visit your facility.
Why should I create a policy?
Creating a workplace violence prevention policy is not only beneficial for the physical safety of those experiencing or witnessing violence, but also for your practice’s overarching stability as a business. Workplace violence often has the following consequences:
- High management time and expenses as a result of violence.
- A loss of productivity for your business.
- Possible staff replacement due to turnover.
With this being said, there is no question as to why creating such a policy should be seen as a necessity when you are starting your own business or if you already have a business.
Consult with Jackson LLP’s experienced healthcare attorneys
Jackson LLP’s attorneys work closely with healthcare practices, professionals, and companies to ensure that their day-to-day operations run smoothly and comply with the law. While much of our work is directly responsive to healthcare laws or regulations, some of it is reactive to current events – including an increase in workplace violence. We strive to help our clients be proactive guardians of their patients, staff, and businesses, and we establish workforce policies with this in mind.
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 Greene, Morgan. “Domestic Violence and Guns in Mercy Hospital Shooting: ‘It Wasn’t about the Ring. It Was about Her Leaving Him.’.” Chicago Tribune, Chicago Tribune, 29 Nov. 2018, www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/breaking/ct-met-mercy-hospital-domestic-violence-20181121-story.html.
 Spring, Christina. “The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 12 Aug. 2013, www.cdc.gov/niosh/updates/upd-08-12-13.html.