Elise Wilson was quite confident in her ability to spot red flags, having worked as an emergency room nurse at Harrington Hospital in Southbridge, Massachusetts, for nearly two decades. And she had only really turned her back on the patient, who would later be diagnosed with a mental illness, for a second before he started stabbing her in the neck and arm.
“He was literally standing right in front of me. I had nowhere to go,” Wilson said. “And the first thing he did was hit me in the head. And when I turned around, he was basically standing knee to knee with me and he had a knife in his hand above his head.
Wilson recounted the 2017 attack during a virtual discussion Tuesday night about the need to prevent rising violence against healthcare workers. Other panelists at the event, hosted by Harvard Law School’s Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics, included a congressman who has introduced legislation on the issue and three other health professionals. health.
Participants made it clear that the problem is serious and getting worse. According to the 2018 US Bureau of Labor Statistics, healthcare workers accounted for 73% of all non-fatal injuries and illnesses related to workplace violence. And more than eight in 10 healthcare workers said in a National Nurses United survey that they had experienced at least one type of workplace violence during the pandemic, when the need for care increased amid staffing shortages in national scale.
“We know healthcare workers face threats, intimidation and, in some horrific circumstances, real violence, and we know this is happening more and more,” the rep said. Democrat Madeleine Dean of Pennsylvania.
Dean joined Republican Rep. Larry Bucshon, an Indiana physician, in introducing a bill last summer to provide legal protection for hospital workers assaulted on the job by making such acts of violence a federal crime.
“If we can deter this behavior from patients, their families or others, and we can ensure that healthcare workers have the knowledge and the best practices, the ability to protect themselves, we will be really happy to to have been a very small part of solving this problem,” she said.
The measure, called the Safety from Violence for Healthcare Employees (SAVE) Act, draws on legislation that protects airline workers from violence by instituting tougher penalties for perpetrators. It also aims to improve training and prevention strategies through a $25 million grant for hospitals nationwide. It currently has more than 50 co-signers and has been endorsed by several healthcare advocacy organizations, including the American Hospital Association and the Federation of American Hospitals.
“It’s about being prepared and mitigating risk,” said Connie Packard, a longtime police officer and president-elect of the International Association for Safety and Security in Healthcare.
Packard, who is currently chief of public safety at Boston Medical Center, outlined strategies in conjunction with legislation to keep healthcare workers safe. She spoke about the need for hospitals to assess their workplace violence prevention policies, review technologies such as personal panic alarms and metal screening, and network with other agencies. working on hospital safety.
Wilson said the attack left her with permanent nerve damage and lingering mobility issues that prevented her from returning to work as a nurse, but expressed hope her story could inspire action from lawmakers and hospital administration. “It has to stop,” she said.
Carmel Shachar, executive director of the Petrie-Flom Center, said law school scholars will continue to pay attention to how targets of violence in health care settings receive justice and legal protections, and that she hopes Tuesday’s panel will help deepen the conversation.
“We were truly honored to host such a distinguished panel. And I think it was especially meaningful that Elise shared her first-hand testimony about violence in the healthcare workplace, because it’s a very heavy story that can’t be easily shared. Those reflections, those first-person accounts, are so important to understanding what the issues are,” she said.
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