New Ill. law requires hospitals to implement violence prevention protocols
Under the law, EMS providers, nurses and healthcare workers will be protected from violent patients through better communication and new policies
By Denise Crosby
YORKVILLE, Ill. — For this story I'll call her Anna.
It's not her real name but I've been acquainted with her Fox Valley, Ill., family for many years and can say for certain how proud her mother was when her only daughter decided to become a paramedic.
She just loved helping people.
Anna still does. But when I spoke to her recently, the 28-year-old Yorkville woman told me going to her job with a west suburban hospital is giving her "increased anxiety" because of an incident that occurred last August when she was physically assaulted by a patient she and her crew had just brought to the emergency room.
After asking to use the restroom, Anna told me, the patient, who was there for a psychological evaluation, got away from the two hospital security guards and rushed for the door, grabbing her in a headlock as he tried to make his escape and biting her on the upper arm before slamming her 5-foot-4, 140-pound body to the floor.
The patient was eventually subdued, not by a security guard but by a doctor who had rushed from another pod when the commotion broke out.
It took several healthcare professionals to get control of the situation, and instead of being told she could take the rest of the night off, Anna says she had to finish her shift and get blood drawn because he'd broken skin with the bite. And when she awoke the following day stiff and in pain, she said she "initially got into trouble for calling off work."
In the end, Anna suffered a displaced rib and whiplash that has resulted in frequent migraine headaches and twice-weekly visits to the chiropractor. But what bothers her the most, she told me, was the lack of support she got from her superiors at the hospital, as well as what she insists is a lack of confidence in security personnel who are "inexperienced and not properly trained" to deal with violent patients.
That following day when I caught up with her again for a few follow-up questions, I spoke to Anna's mother, who said her daughter had experienced another "scary" incident at her most recent shift, when she was verbally accosted by a patient and his significant other in an elevator at the hospital.
Later, Anna confirmed that she had called security "but none was available."
While that "name-calling verbal abuse" didn't get physical, Anna told me it is "a flashback to before" that has made her even more anxious about her job.
"I have never felt as unsafe in the field as I have in hospital settings because in the field we have a strong police presence," she said. "But at the hospital, there are usually underpaid and under-trained security in some hospitals who don't know how to respond."
The only solace she takes is that after she filed a report about the most recent incident, she felt more empowered, especially in light of the fact more people are talking about workplace violence in hospitals.
"It is important that large healthcare corporations take security hiring seriously," she said, adding that some hospitals in the area do a better job at providing adequate protection in these volatile environments.
Anna is also encouraged by the new bill that went into effect at the start of this year requiring Illinois hospitals to have violence prevention protocols in place. That includes better communication between hospitals and law enforcement, as well as specific requirements for inmates seeking medical treatment. The bill also provides whistle-blower protection for those who report violent incidents and requires specific action by healthcare facilities.
In addition to nurses and healthcare workers, paramedics and EMTs were added to the new law, noted Sonja McCarthy of Aurora, a long-time level one trauma nurse at Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital in Downers Grove, who helped state Rep. Stephanie Kifowit (D-Oswego) write the new law.
And those new additions were especially important to McCarthy, as her oldest daughter is an EMT and grew up hearing her father tell her mother to "be safe" when she went to work in the ER.
"The paramedics and police often see a person at their most acute," she said. "I'm glad this was expanded to include EMTs, who are often stuck in the back of an ambulance."
McCarthy agrees that "certain hospitals respond better than others." She insists "we have come a long way" in addressing physical and verbal assaults in healthcare facilities, especially as more people are starting to speak up.
But there is still the fear, she added, that doing so can impact careers, which means much of what goes on will still be under-reported.
"This is an institutional problem," noted Kifowit.
For Anna and her loved ones, it is also a family problem.
"I see how traumatic this has been for her," said Anna's mother, who is concerned that her daughter has had to make multiple visits to the ER herself because of anxiety.
"This has been her passion to be a paramedic, but when you get no support it is causing her to think about getting into a different field," she said.
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