As a psychiatric nurse, I have always dealt with aggressive and/or assaultive patients. People seem to think that is “just part of the package” but I disagree. Nurses, no matter where they work, should not be targets for abuse. These are people who do what they do because they only want to be helpful to others. Nurses usually describe their choice as a “calling”, much as a nun will describe the need to give her life to God as a “calling”. Nurses, by and large, want to help others to heal, to restore to health, to learn to live with chronic conditions, to be able to laugh and enjoy life. Nurses work with the patient, but they also work with the families of that patient in a way that gives them relief and support.
There have been times when working at a psychiatric emergency room that police brought in handcuffed and pepper-sprayed individuals who were actively psychotic and aggressive. These 3 or 4 policemen would uncuff the person and leave. I worked the night shift and we routinely had a nurse and two techs available at any given time. Do you think we were better equipped to deal with this person than those police? We frequently were assaulted and injured.
There needs to be some protection in the law for the nursing staff of any hospital–that they should not have to fear injury or death because they show up for work.
The ER is open 24/7. It provides unrestricted access to the public. Nurses and doctors are trained to help all in need of medical attention. However, the staff is exposed constantly to an un-screened and potentially high-risk population for violent behavior.
I have two sisters that are emergency room nurses. They have both dealt with violent patients. Both have been hit, kicked and threatened. One of my sisters was even seriously injured by an inmate that was receiving care. Unfortunately, most people are not aware of the dangers for nurses in the ER.
ER nurses can deal with individuals that are suicidal, schizophrenic, drug addictive, and/or violent criminals all in a shift.
When dealing with a violent offender, the police can call for back-up. They have a variety of weapons to defend themselves with such as: OC Spray, ASP batons, and a gun. Additionally, a police officer also has the authority to place the offender in a holding cell. Once the fight is over, the criminal is transported to the hospital for care. The criminal arrives at the hospital. The ER reality — nurses deal with the same violent criminals without the back-up, weapons, or authority to place in a cell.
I have had people tell me that the nurse can strap the violent patient to the bed and call security. Yes, they can; however, how will they get straps on a strung out, violent criminal who attempted to harm the police? Nurses are not trained in self defense or take down procedures.
If a person potentially overdosing PCP is transported to the ER, the ER nurses are dealing with the same violent, strong, crazed individual that the police would. If a criminal is injured, the police take them to the hospital. These criminals may have raped, burned or killed innocent people. Again, nurses do not have the same defense training as a police officer.
What about the mental ill patient that has not committed a crime but is in need of medical treatment? These patients also pose a tremendous risk for the people that give them care. These patients often do not come into the hospital with the police. The nurses may never see any security with these individuals, but this situation can still be very dangerous for all who care for this patient.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), in 2000, the injury rate for nurses is among the highest, and 25 of every 10,000 full-time nurses were injured in workplace assaults. This rate is much higher than private-sector industries, which is 2 per 10,000.
The reality is cops, correctional officers and nurses all deal with the same people. Nurses are the only ones that have had no training on how to deal with hand-to-hand combat, have no radio, no weapons, and no real lifeline to call for back-up.
I admire the work that they do and the heroic conditions that they perform under each and every shift!
Victim or Bad Ass??? – I say both!
Sheryl McCollum, MS
Cold Case Investigative Research Institute
Here’s the link to the blog, Time’s UP and this post