Hospital steps up security after national increase in emergency room violence

A study revealed that 54.5 percent of 6,504 emergency nurses have experienced physical violence and/or verbal abuse from a patient or visitor

By Kelly Ragan
Greeley Tribune

GREELEY, Colo. — Dylan Hockett knows people don't come to the emergency department because they want to. It's usually a stressful time for patients and for family. Tensions run high. People are often scared and in pain.

Hockett expects all that. That's his job.

Hockett, regional director of security for Banner Health, watches for folks who aren't following directions, spout off foul language or hold an aggressive posture. It's part of his job, and his team's job, to intervene before that behavior gets violent.

In 2010, the Bureau of Labor Statistics data reported health care and social assistance workers were the victims of 11,370 assaults nationwide. Most of those incidents happen in the emergency department, Hockett said.

According to a 2011 study by the Emergency Nurses Association, 54.5 percent of 6,504 emergency nurses have experienced physical violence and/or verbal abuse from a patient or visitor. According to the report, incidents likely are underreported since many nurses see them as just part of the job.

Hockett said nurses tend to see the brunt of the violence because they have the most contact with patients.

North Colorado Medical Center's emergency medical services personnel even wear Kevlar vests. They protect first responders from internal injuries suffered from close contact with patients.

Troy Osborne, division chief of Banner Health Paramedic Services, said EMTs are 14 times more likely to be violently injured than the firefighters they work with because of the close contact they have with patients.

Safety problems often stem from mental health issues and addiction issues. That makes emergency rooms increasingly dangerous for hospital workers, as one in eight emergency department visits are for treatment of mental health or substance use disorders, according to the U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. Between 2006 and 2013, the agency found a 55.5 percent increase in emergency department visits for those issues.

"If someone feels strongly they deserve medicines like opioids and we don't give them, they can get angry," said Jill Hanck, medical director of the emergency department at NCMC.

That's why security staffs North Colorado Medical Center's emergency department at all times, Hockett said.

To combat those rising incidents, doctors, nurses and security have to work together as a team, Hockett said. When they notice inappropriate behavior, he wants them to report it right away so the situation doesn't escalate. He usually responds to calls for assistance about six times per day.

Hanck said she thinks a zero-tolerance policy helps keep down instances of violence.

"If a low level is tolerated, it can escalate," Hanck said.

When she notices people cursing, acting aggressive or pulling out their IVs, she notifies security.

So far, she hasn't experienced a physically violent assault at NCMC, she said, but she did in her residency. Someone grabbed her arm hard and jerked her around. It scared her.

Usually the presence of a security guard is enough to make people come to their senses.

Since 2008, NCMC also has had patrol dogs.

Tyler Beckle, K9 security officer at NCMC, said the two dogs are muzzled as they do patrols. Despite the muzzles, Beckle said, the dogs are usually calming because they're cute. If there ever was a need, though, they could be unmuzzled and are trained to bite.

Soon Kyra, NCMC's newest patrol dog, will be certified to search for narcotics. That will help prevent dealers, friends and family from smuggling drugs into the hospital to give to patients.

Employees also go through annual training for crisis intervention tactics and basic self-defense techniques, Hockett said.

The training covers low-level violence all the way up to dealing with weapons.

"Fortunately that is rare," Hockett said.

But they can never be too careful.

Copyright 2017 Greeley Tribune

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