BROOMFIELD, Colo. — Nearly half of nurses across the country reported being the victims of violence in a recent survey, and local health workers say attacks are only increasing.
A survey conducted by National Nurses United (NNU) gathered responses from more than 2,500 nurses across the country from February 2, 2022 to March 20, 2022. Of those, 48% reported either a small or significant increase in workplace violence. According to NNU, that is almost a 57% increase from September 2021, and a 119% increase from March 2021.
Our partners at The Denver Post first brought attention to this increase through their reporting.
In Colorado, it is a felony to assault emergency room staff. Still, those working in the emergency room at the UCHealth Broomfield Hospital said violence from patients toward health care workers has been a problem throughout their careers.
“I've been punched, hit, beat, grabbed," said Kellee Smith, who has been an emergency room nurse for almost four decades. "A trend that is on the rise. And it doesn't really matter where you work, whether it's a freestanding emergency department, or it's a large inner city hospital, the threat of violence is everywhere.”
UCHealth EMT Adam Jordan said he has been kicked, punched, spit at, and even had a knife pulled on him.
“Almost everyone in the in the emergency room and in EMS in general, has dealt with some sort of violence, even verbal violence, and threats are not taken seriously anymore," Jordan said. “A coworker of mine... she got absolutely pummeled and just had to be out of work for a while... it's a stark reminder that this can happen to any of us, any day that we work.”
Jordan said mental health issues have always existed in the emergency room, but that the pandemic has exacerbated the problem.
“We've seen more violent behavior, or just combative patients in general," Jordan said. “We've been able to see that just through the amount of nurses and doctors and health care workers in general leaving the field due to this increased amount of stress.”
UCHealth has a no tolerance policy, aimed at protecting both their employees and patients.
“We have to disprove they don't have a medical condition causing that disruptiveness," Smith explained. “If those de-escalation techniques don't work, then if the patient's been declared medically stable for discharge, then we will let them leave because we're not going to withstand unsafe conditions. We're not going to potentially put other patients at risk, much less ourselves.”
Jordan believes it is imperative that health care workers report any instances of violence against them.
“It's almost commonplace just to get yelled at and threatened day by day. And no one ever reports that and, and even some of the larger things people don't report," Jordan said. “I feel that with documentation, and hopefully, if we can get everyone reporting these things that it shows either administration or shows a public that, 'hey, this is something that we're really struggling with, and we really need help in this.'”
It is a problem that should not be part of the job, but both Smith and Jordan have not let it impact what they have chosen as their careers.
“Today, I might make a difference in somebody's world," Smith said. "I don't let something make a difference in my world with the threat of violence.”