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Survey: Assaults on ER Nurses Rising

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By Laura Strachan, Esq. on August 11, 2010 11:18 AM

Bruises, scratches, and a chipped tooth sound like a pretty normal sighting at a typical hospital emergency room. The problem with this description is that it is increasingly being applied to ER nurses, as a new survey reveals that assaults on ER nurses is on the rise. The increase in alcoholics, drug addicts, and psychiatric patients coming to ER facilities is the primary factor for the climb in hospital violence.

MSNBC notes the causes for this disturbing increase: "the problem has only been getting worse ... because of the downturn in the economy, as cash-strapped states close state hospitals, cut mental health jobs, eliminate addiction programs and curtail other services." President of the International Association for Healthcare Security and Safety, Joseph Bellino is quoted in MSNBC: "It's come to the point where nurses are saying, enough is enough. The slapping, screaming, and groping are not part of the job."

The concern is shifting from the threat of assault, to the nature of the assault. University of Cincinnati Professor Dona Graves (who is helping the federal government study solutions to this growing problem) adds that, "The increase in guns, in weapons coming in, in drugs, the many psychiatric patients, the alcohol, the people with dementia," are making the emergency room attacks more violent.

Many states already have heightened criminal penalties for assaults on nurses, making the attack an automatic felony, rather than a misdemeanor. Nurses are now seeking to make these heightened penalties mandatory in every state. From a legal standpoint, the increased criminal penalties for assaults on healthcare workers will take some time. In the meantime, nurses are not taking the assault lightly. Many are seeking to increase hospital security, screening of patients, implementing coded ID badges, bulletproof glass, and "panic buttons." The Occupational Safety and Health Administration promulgates suggested safety standards that over half of the states have adopted or incorporated into their own rules. In pushing for mandatory OSHA standards in all states, nurses are hoping that a vote on this topic will help protect them from the rising hospital violence.

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