By now, it’s a familiar story. At least here in the United States. An act of violence takes lives in a given workplace and headlines shout the news across the nation. The latest new wave of employers immediately jump to implement – or accelerate implementation – of incident response plans for an active assailant. But that’s not the only action that should happen. Industry best practice calls for a focus on prevention in conjunction with incident response planning.

The enactment of a series of new laws around workplace violence prevention in healthcare facilities supports this focus on development and the full implementation of organizational violence prevention programs that go beyond reactionary activity.

The alarming lack of workplace violence prevention in healthcare facilities

In late November, many of us at our Chicago headquarters refreshed our news apps one day to learn that three people had just been killed in an attack at Mercy Hospital, only miles away. As the details developed, this tragedy began reflecting so many workplace violence tendencies: a disgruntled ex-fiancé seeking revenge on his girlfriend, shooting her in a parking lot and entering a largely open entrance to wreak violence on others. The confusion on site as police struggle to uncover details. And lastly, the fact that, once again, this occurred at a healthcare facility.

Healthcare workers face an alarming rate of workplace violence in healthcare facilities. In fact, 27 percent of work-related fatalities and 74 percent of all workplace assaults occur at healthcare venues,  according to a 2013 survey by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.[1]

Healthcare facilities pose unique challenges for formal workplace violence prevention programs due to their open nature and pervasive perception that patient-on-staff violence is “part of the job.”

The State of Illinois signs the Healthcare Worker Violence Protection Act to institutionalize best practice solutions

In response to this growing threat at healthcare institutions, the State of Illinois recently signed the Healthcare Worker Violence Protection Act into law. This legislation specifically requires that hospitals implement a Workplace Violence Prevention Program that is compliant with OSHA guidelines that include best practices and compel worker participation. Similarly, the Act requires that a worksite analysis be conducted to give hospitals a better understanding of their vulnerabilities and hazards in order to build a particularly robust Workplace Violence Prevention Program.

As experts assessing and developing these types of programs for various organizations and enterprises, we know these statistics well, and are aware and concerned that hospitals bear higher associated risks than do other institutions.

The Act encourages additional best practices. In short, it:

  • Protects those who may report safety concerns
  • Requires that custodial agencies provide information about mentally ill patients to the treating hospital that characterizes their past violent behaviors
  • Requires at least one guard be provided who is trained in custodial escort and high-risk custody by custodial agencies for those deemed high-risk
  • Requires that facilities post notice prohibiting verbal abuse
  • Requires that all employers offer post-incident services to those affected by workplace violence

Illinois is the 8th state in this national trend – hopefully, more are not far behind

Illinois is not the first state to mandate workplace violence programs. To date, seven others – California, Connecticut, Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey, Oregon and New York – require them. Worth noting is that New York’s mandates are limited to public employers. Rep. Ro Khana (D-CA) garnered national attention by introducing the Health Care Workplace Violence Prevention Act on March 8, 2018.

While state mandates continue to evolve, they are underpinned by a similar workplace violence preventative methodology. The workplace violence prevention methods that most clearly align with the healthcare facility mandates, include:

  • Ensuring workplace violence prevention awareness and training
  • Building effective threat assessment teams
  • Reinforcing active assailant programs with training

We hope to see a much larger number of hospitals across the United States recognize their enhanced vulnerability to an active assailant event. Hospitals should be a place where patients focus on wellness and personnel feel safe to practice their profession — not a battleground.


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