Nurse assaults at boiling point
COLUMBUS – Emergency room nurse Erin Riley suffered bruises, scratches and a chipped tooth last year from trying to pull the clamped jaws of a psychotic patient off the hand of a doctor at a suburban Cleveland hospital.
A second assault just months later was even more upsetting: She had just finished cutting the shirt off a drunken patient and was helping him into his hospital gown when he groped her.
“The patients always come first – and I don’t think anybody has a question about that – but I don’t think it has to be an either-or situation,” said Riley, a registered nurse for five years.
Violence against nurses and other medical professionals appears to be increasing around the country as the number of drug addicts, alcoholics and psychiatric patients showing up at emergency rooms climbs.
Nurses have responded, in part, by seeking tougher criminal penalties for assaults against health care workers.
“It’s come to the point where nurses are saying, ‘Enough is enough. The slapping, screaming and groping are not part of the job’,” said Joseph Bellino, president of the International Association for Healthcare Security and Safety, which represents professionals who manage security at hospitals.
Visits to ERs for drug- and alcohol-related incidents climbed from about 1.6 million in 2005 to nearly 2 million in 2008, according to the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. From 2006 to 2008, the number of those visits resulting in violence jumped from 16 277 to 21 406, the agency said.
Nurses and experts in mental health and addiction say the problem has only been getting worse since then because of the downturn in the economy, as cash-strapped states close state hospitals, cut mental health jobs, eliminate addiction programmes and curtail other services.
After her second attack in a year, Riley began pushing her hospital to put uniformed police on duty.
The American College of Emergency Physicians has recommended other safety measures, including 24-hour security guards, coded ID badges, bulletproof glass and “panic buttons” for medical staff to push.
Detroit’s Henry Ford Hospital is among hospitals that have had success with metal detectors, confiscating 33 handguns, 1 324 knives, and 97 Mace sprays in the first six months of the programme. (AP)