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How to React to Violence at Work

Incidents of violence at work in the health care field have been increasing. Here's what you can do if it happens in your practice.

In the last year there have been reports of violence against health care workers, some even resulting in loss of life. If you’re confronted with an angry patient, what should you do to protect yourself, your staff and your patients?

Everyone in the health care field has watched as violence against health care workers has been increasing, especially post-pandemic. Violence against health care workers skyrocketed during the pandemic, with 44% of nurses reporting physical abuse and 68% reporting verbal abuse. Violence can not only come from patients and/or their families/caregivers, but also from other staff members. It's important that all members of your team are aware of what violence looks like and how to handle a situation where they feel threatened.

4 Types of Violence

Violence at work can be broken down into four categories:

  • Criminal Intent: Acts of terrorism, etc. usually no business relationship
  • Customer/client:  Violence while providing a service
  • Worker-on-worker: Violence between staff members
  • Personal relationship: Not a relationship with the business/service, but with the victim, such as domestic abuse

It is important that your program address all four components, even if you think they will never happen in your practice.

The most common question we receive from our practice managers is what they can do in the event they are threatened by a patient. Can they dismiss the patient immediately? The answer to that question is a resounding “yes.” If violent behavior is present, the patient can usually be dismissed from the practice immediately. The usual 30 days of care (depending on jurisdiction) to prevent an abandonment allegation is typically waived if a patient is violent.

Every state should take a cue from Illinois, where legislation was passed to reduce violence in health care. Regardless of your state, there are two very important takeaways from this legislation that every healthcare facility can use:

  • Post a sign in a very visible area which states: “Verbal abuse/aggression will not be tolerated and physical assault will be reported to law enforcement.”
  • Create a workplace violence program and provide services to those affected by violence. OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) provides guidance around workplace violence programs.


National Law Review

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