Biweekly Briefing Articles

Taking Steps to Address Workplace Violence in Hospitals

Hitting. Spitting. Yelling. Patients with weapons. 

It’s likely your hospitals have all seen examples of this bad behavior. And possibly even worse. While workplace violence has long been a problem for hospitals, it has only worsened in recent years. It was identified as a concern in the 2022 San Diego Community Health Needs Assessment (CHNA), which found that increased stressors and political tension due to the pandemic may have caused an uptick in aggression and violence toward health care workers.

Examples include:  

  • Nonphysical/psychological harm such as insults, threats, intimidation 
  • Physical assault  
  • Verbal sexual harassment and sexual assault

Violence against health care workers is not only dangerous, even life-threatening, but it also makes it difficult for providers and other health care staff to provide quality care. And witnessing violence in health care settings creates a stressful environment for other patients seeking care.

It’s a problem that has become so prevalent that a San Diego countywide task force has been formed to stem the issue. What began as a small group of San Diego County health and law enforcement leaders now includes leaders from every health system operating a hospital in the region as well as law enforcement agencies that respond to medical facilities for emergencies. The task force was featured in a July 23 San Diego Union Tribune article.

The full group held its first meeting in June, where it had the chance to hear from three health care workers who shared stories of being personally affected by violence in hospitals. San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan, a member of the task force, has provided strong leadership, including allocating a special prosecutor and an investigator to work on hospital violence reports.

While workplace violence in any situation is inexcusable, many health care employees mistakenly feel that it’s just part of their job and are often hesitant to even report it, making the need for proper awareness and recognition all the more important. No health care worker should feel unsafe on the job, especially when they are working around the clock to ensure that everyone receives the best treatment possible.

That’s why, as part of its early work, the task force is recommending that law enforcement engage directly with hospitals in their jurisdiction to establish direct relationships between law enforcement and hospital security leadership. Hospitals are encouraged to reach out to law enforcement organizations to arrange on-site visits, which will give hospitals the opportunity to share their experiences with violence and safety challenges within their facilities. The task force has also asked for law enforcement’s guidance on how to increase the physical security of hospital workers and patients without violating rules and regulations.

The Hospital Quality Institute is also taking steps to help manage this issue and has developed a white paper: Workplace Violence in Hospitals: Issues, Trends, Prevention, and Response. It provides an overview of the challenges faced by hospitals and outlines the strategies being undertaken by HQI, the California Hospital Association (CHA), and the Regional Associations to support member hospitals.

Protecting health care employees from workplace violence has been — and will continue to be — a top priority. We will work internally, and with our community partners, to ensure a safe environment for all.