A patient’s recent attack on four nurses at a Minnesota hospital has facilities reevaluating their security measures to keep staff and patients safe. And the attack is only one of many. An Annals of Emergency Medicine study found 154 hospital shootings occurred from 2000 to 2011.
As a travel nurse, it may take a while to get used to a new hospital’s security procedures — or you may find yourself working in a rural area that has fewer resources to keep you safe. Below are some tips from the American Nurses Association on protecting yourself from workplace violence.
1. Never work alone if you feel uncomfortable around a patient. While you might commonly walk into a patient’s room alone during the night shift to administer medicine, you should never do this if he or she seems unstable or you feel uneasy. Trust your intuition. It’s never a bad idea to ask another nurse or even a security guard, if one is available, to enter the room with you.
2. Identify high-risk patients and flag charts. If you are caring for a patient suffering from psychosis, dementia or a substance abuse disorder — or someone with a history of violence — flag her chart so you and other nurses and doctors can take precautions when treating her. Protect yourself by always having another nurse with you and keeping needles and potentially dangerous items out of the patient’s reach.
3. Advocate for safety measures both inside and outside the hospital. You may not feel immediately comfortable, as a travel nurse new to a facility, addressing safety concerns you have, but you should always speak to your supervisor or a hospital administrator about things that make you feel unsafe at work. Parking lots should always be well-lit, for example, and you have a right to lockable staff areas, such as bathrooms, and controlled-access doors. If your hospital is lacking any of these safety features, let someone know so they can be implemented.
4. Always carry a panic device with you in case of emergencies. Some hospitals do not allow nurses to carry cell phones in their pockets during their shifts. If this is the case at your facility, keep a handheld noise device or pager in your pocket so you’re prepared for emergencies. Patient rooms should also be equipped with panic buttons to protect both you and your patients.
5. Make sure your coworkers are trained to cope with both physical and verbal abuse. Victims of hospital violence are most often untrained or newly hired nurses, so help them prepare by teaching them to look for warning signs, ask for help if they feel unsafe and report any violent or suspicious behavior to a supervisor.
For more information, check out the American Nurses Association’s page on preventing bullying and workplace violence.