A Critical Conversation for Healthcare

92675953If someone paid you $30, would you let them assault you?

Would you allow them to push you and yell at you?

What if you didn’t know exactly when it was going to happen, but the person told you it would be between 11 PM and 7 AM when most “normal” folks are sleeping?

Do you think you’d feel safe or at peace during that window of time?

Unless you have a particular interest in being a victim, your answers to all of these questions are probably a fairly emphatic, “No!”

I’m glad.

However, data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Emergency Nurses Association, and Journal of Emergency Nursing suggest that these things happen quite frequently in the real word to emergency room nurses and staff. Here’s the scoop:

If you take the average salary for an E.R. nurse and break it down to a rough hourly wage, you’re around $30 an hour. Studies suggest that a vast majority of E.R. nurses and staff (more than 70%) have been physically or verbally assaulted on the job. On top of that, most of these assaults occur during the midnight shift (between 11 PM and 7 AM) despite the fact that patient volume is lower during those times.

So, even though you wouldn’t willingly put yourself in a situation to be assaulted for $30 an hour, the facts suggest that this risk follows you every hour of every shift.

That’s a sobering reality for someone who signs on as a healthcare professional to help others. Frankly, in my opinion, it’s unacceptable. There are certain professions where the risk of assault and death are understood (i.e. law enforcement). As a former police officer, I was okay with the idea that someone might try to hurt me during a shift. It was a risk I fully understood/accepted and one that I trained to meet when it presented itself. Nurses and healthcare workers shouldn’t have to add this kind of stress to their collective plates.

But this is why security staff at hospitals exist, right? Many of them are former law enforcement or military veterans that are used to preparing their minds to meet a threat. Too often, however, that’s where the system of protection breaks down. Many hospital security personnel don’t have the adequate tools they need to effectively meet the looming threat at their facilities. If these professionals are completely unarmed, their effectiveness, presence, and ability to de-escalate a situation is greatly reduced. On the other hand, arming them with firearms is a very high-risk proposition for a healthcare facility, and most threats don’t rise to the point where they justify this level of force.

There is a suitable middle ground that enhances the security officer’s presence and ability to defend him/herself. These “intermediate” tools have been around for some time. They include batons, traditional pepper spray canisters, and conducted electrical weapons. Some hospitals have equipped their security officers with these tools, but then slapped restrictions on their use. The restrictions are understandable to anyone who has trained with or used these tools. Batons are NOT a non-lethal option and can cause significant injury or death. Traditional pepper spray can cross-contaminate Innocent people and the off-gassing of the spray can potentially get into the HVAC system inside the building. Conducted electrical weapons can have a high degree of risk associated with them and can ignite explosive/flammable gasses/vapors commonly found in hospitals.

Considering these extenuating circumstances, it’s no wonder why finding the best solution for hospital security seems daunting.

However, if you’re a healthcare worker reading this blog, you’re probably wondering what your facility does to help protect you while you’re on the job. On the other side, if you’re a hospital security professional, you likely recognize some of the equipment struggles I mentioned above as well as the difficulties of getting new equipment approved by your administration. Either way, it’s a good time to initiate the conversation about what can be done to curb the statistics.

Of course, I’m biased on the side of the Enhanced Non-Lethal approach. It’s not just because I work for Guardian 8, though. From my experience, I know the value of video and audio documentation when it comes to protecting and supporting my actions. I understand how important it is to have de-escalatory tools that can intervene when words (by themselves) fail. I have experienced the failure rate of going hands-on and the comfort that creating distance between myself and an aggressor brings when I need to consider my personal defense options. Having one hand-held tool that meets all of my needs and addresses my concerns is worthy of my attention. That’s why I signed on to do this.

If nothing else, please start the critical conversation at your facility about what measures are being taken to protect the physical security of hospital (especially E.R.) staff. Those dedicated to doing no harm shouldn’t have to worry about it being done to them.

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