In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, nurses in the United States are facing an unprecedented increase in workplace violence, according to a recent survey conducted by the National Nurses United (NNU), the nation’s largest nursing union. The survey, which included 914 nurses across 48 states and the District of Columbia, revealed shocking statistics. It indicated that 46% of nurses reported an upsurge in workplace violence, with a staggering 82% experiencing at least one form of violence at work in 2023.
The survey further disclosed that verbal threats were the most common form of violence encountered by nurses, affecting 68% of the respondents. However, the report also highlighted that more than a third of nurses experienced physical threats, such as being slapped, punched, kicked, or even having objects thrown at them. Astonishingly, the findings indicated that only a small fraction, a mere 4%, reported a decline in workplace violence on their units in the past year.
Anecdotal Evidence: Disturbing Incidents
In addition to the survey, the NNU conducted focus groups in seven states, which uncovered distressing examples of the violence witnessed by nurses in 2023. For instance, an emergency department nurse from Colorado revealed the lack of security measures in her department and the slow response times from police. She recalled instances where she had treated her own colleagues for broken bones, concussions, bite marks, and torn biceps. In California, a nurse shared how strict visitation policies for COVID patients led family members to “lash out” at the medical staff. Meanwhile, an Illinois-based nurse recounted a terrifying incident where a patient brought a gun into the clinic, despite firearms not being allowed. The nurse expressed frustration over management’s refusal to implement metal detectors due to cost concerns and lack of police presence.
The consequences of these incidents are far-reaching. Almost two-thirds of the survey respondents admitted experiencing heightened anxiety, fear, or increased vigilance, directly affecting their mental health and well-being. Shockingly, over one-third of the nurses surveyed contemplated leaving the nursing profession altogether, while almost one in five decided to change or quit their jobs. These distressing figures highlight the dire impact that workplace violence has on the nursing workforce.
Despite these alarming findings, the survey revealed a concerning lack of action from employers. Only 63% of employers provided training on workplace violence, portraying a significant gap in prevention efforts. Even more concerning is the fact that just 32% of employers offer a clear way to report incidents, and a mere 30% have staff, including security personnel, readily available to respond to acts of violence. The NNU emphasized that employers continue to fail in their duty to safeguard nurses from workplace violence, calling for urgent measures to rectify the situation.
The Need for Improved Measures
The NNU’s report outlined several shortcomings in employers’ approach to preventing and addressing workplace violence. It revealed that 42% of employers inadequately investigate incidents of violence, and only 21% implement changes in practice to mitigate future risks. Shockingly, 29% of survey respondents admitted that their employers reprimanded or blamed them for the violent incidents they encountered. The NNU strongly advocates for a national enforceable standard, as detailed in the Workplace Violence Prevention for Health Care and Social Service Workers Act (S. 1176/H.R.), to ensure the safety and well-being of nurses and other healthcare workers.
A Call for Action
The rise in workplace violence against nurses serves as a disturbing reminder of the challenges faced by healthcare professionals in the aftermath of the pandemic. It is imperative that healthcare facilities and employers prioritize the safety and well-being of their staff, implementing comprehensive strategies to prevent and address workplace violence. The time for action is now, as failure to act not only poses a significant threat to nurses but also jeopardizes the quality of patient care in our healthcare system.