I stumbled across this article from the New York Times which I found interesting regarding violence against nurses being a serious issue – especially in terms of workplace violence. It reminded me that in all the talking we do about abuse and neglect of patients, we sometimes forget that nurses and aides, and really anyone providing "front-line" care to patients in a health care setting, are at risk for abuses as well.
The article points out that workplace violence is 12% higher in for nurses and personal care aides than in the private sector, which may not sound like a lot, but certainly seems like a high risk if you work in this field. The article goes on to say that the most dangerous setting is psychiatric facilities and nursing homes due in part to patient confusion. However, the author also points out that part of the problem in these settings is the long wait time for services in places like nursing homes and emergency rooms. This is made worse still by the nursing shortage.
"Nurses say the persistent nationwide nursing shortage is making matters worse, because understaffing increases the risk of violent incidents. And nurses cite the fear of assault as a reason for low morale, especially if they feel that management does not share their concern."
We have to remember that often times, our clients, our family members, our patients (whatever angle you look from) are quite often not the only victims in these situations. Many times, too many times, the people who provide the care are victims as well – if they don’t have enough support, then they effectively have an increased risk of being harmed. Interesting, isn’t it – without enough staff, we know the care of the resident’s suffers, but we forget that short staffing affects the staff as well.
I, myself, when working at a nursing home, have been cornered in my office by an elderly lady who was furiously swinging at me. I was a social worker, the resident was in my office because she had been disruptive all day and the nurse’s simply couldn’t watch after her anymore. I realized right quick that part of the fear is that they might injure you (its amazing what sort of strength a demented, angry 95 pound woman can have), and part of the fear becomes that you might injure them in trying to protect yourself.
I don’t know what the solution is, but I am reminded again, as I often am, about a discussion with a friend about one way to keep plenty of good staff is to pay them well – pay them to continue to care, pay them to be accountable for the care they provide. Of course, I know that money is not the absolute solution, but Management types should certainly know that if they have good staff, they should pay them to stay – and while thy’re there, they have to listen to and support them emotionally. If Management sees their front line staff as just another warm body, then eventually morale becomes such that you have just that, another warm body.
It takes a certain, special kind of person to care for patients of all kinds, nursing home residents included. The article reminded me that we have to remember that caregivers are sometimes victims as well, and often through no fault of their own. And, like the residents they care for, they should have some measure of safety as well. Thoughts?