Some Connecticut front line health care employees say they continue to be on the receiving end of violence while at work. The problem has not gone away amid the pandemic, some in the medical field said. NBC Connecticut Investigates started looking into this issue almost two years ago.
“We have not seen as much as we did going into the pandemic; thank goodness. But it still happens,” said Anne-Marie Cerra, a registered nurse in the emergency department at Manchester Memorial Hospital, which is part of Eastern Connecticut Health Network (ECHN).
Cerra said violent outbursts from patients - or even a patient’s family – have the potential to happen in any health care or social services setting.
“This is happening, and this is not right,” Cerra said. “And I should not have to endure physical and verbal abuse.”
According to data from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), incidents of serious workplace violence were at least five times higher in health care than in other industries. Meanwhile, a 2020 survey by National Nurses United, the largest association of registered nurses in the U.S., showed about 20% of nurses reported an increase in on the job violence because of decreased staffing levels, changes in the patient population, and visitor restrictions.
“It’s like two epidemics sort of colliding in the same space,” said Rep. Joe Courtney, a Democrat representing Connecticut’s 2nd District. In 2019, Courtney introduced a bill that would have directed OSHA to require employers to have violence prevention plans in place and to report all incidents of violence. Currently, Courtney says, there are only "voluntary guidelines" in place.
“We’ve got to do more to protect them and make sure they go to work in the morning and come home safe at night,” Courtney said.
Courtney’s bill passed in the U.S. House back then, but was never voted on by the U.S. Senate. Now, with the Senate under Democratic control, Courtney has reintroduced the bill hoping it has a different fate with this congress.
In 2016, the CHA launched its Safer Hospitals Initiative, which includes de-escalation training specific to each hospital across our state.
“ECHN’s supports the development and implementation of a workplace violence prevention plan to protect healthcare workers,” said Nina Kruse, spokesperson with Eastern Connecticut Health Network. “ECHN representatives serve on the Connecticut Hospital Association’s Safety and Security leadership committee, as well as the workplace subcommittee to participate in the development of this program,” Kruse said.
“ECHN values the safety of our employees and our patients and legislation such as this aims to be supportive of our shared goals,” Kruse added.
“We want to be safe. We should be safe. It’s not an arena where we should ever feel unsafe,” Cerra said. “The workplace violence will continue, and we have to ways to fix it.”