Devoting concern to possible violence against nurses is not a new cause for the Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals, but the union has not specifically devoted attention to it since the summer. To remedy this, PASNAP hosted a recent conference to address violence against health care professionals in the workplace, specifically against nurses.
“This issue has the fastest response from members,” PASNAP Communications Specialist Emily Randle said. Randle recounted the most serious incident in recent months when a nurse, Jill Messler, was “assaulted by a psychiatric patient” and suffered severe injuries that left her hospitalized.
“We called other hospitals with union members and found similar problems,” Randle said, recalling the attack on Messler.
“It doesn’t matter where the hospital is or who is treated – it happens everywhere,” said Donna Lee, the president of the PASNAP local at Jeanes Hospital, a branch of Temple University Health System.
While most attacks are committed by patients who are admitted to the emergency room and psychiatric wards, people under the influence of drugs and alcohol may also pose a risk. Violence can manifest in direct assault or in the form of threats.
PASNAP President Patricia Eakin, who said she’s had nurses leave for safety reasons, spoke of one disgruntled patient who threatened a nurse.
“He said that he was ‘going to blow your F-ing head off after work,’” Eakin said.
Representatives of PASNAP and TUHS agreed the biggest challenge is changing the misconception that nurses must ignore violent behavior by patients and accept it as a part of their job.
Randle said hospitals have a blanket response method to address workplace violence, but no sufficient new security measures have been put in place.
Allied Barton, the company that provides security personnel at Main Campus, recently extended its service to Temple University Hospital, most prominently in the emergency room.
“It makes the hospital more amenable,” Eakin said.
Eakin said the Nov. 10 conference, which gathered approximately 200 nurses statewide, was the first in a series of educational courses intended to encourage nurses to report violent persons to hospital security.
District Attorney Seth Williams and Delaware County District Attorney Michael Green were also present at the conference. Each supported a proposition to establish a regional and statewide task force that would evaluate legislation to protect nurses, develop a model contract language for health care workers, raise public awareness and extend support to hospitals not represented by the union.
Eakin said both Williams and Green would help with the task force.
Jeanes Hospital also secured a new nurses contract with hospital management on Nov. 8. The four-year contract includes the creation of a PASNAP board-appointed “work group” of union members from different hospital specialties to discuss security needs.
Lee said the nurses and managers selected for the work group will be those who best represent the people in their division.
The contract specifies that the findings will go to the hospital CEO, who will report to union members every 30 days. The group will meet as needed.
“It’s about changing attitudes,” Lee said, “and that’s a step our management has been good about.”
Amelia Brust can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.