New Jersey hospitals reported nearly 10,000 incidents of workplace violence against their employees in 2021 as the healthcare provider community seeks to focus attention on a growing number of incidents targeting these essential workers and caregivers.
In a survey of the state’s acute care hospitals, the New Jersey Hospital Association found a 14.6% increase in violent incidents against staff over the last three years, increasing steadily from 8,691 in 2019 to 9,202 in 2020 to 9,962 last year. More than half of these incidents are related to physical abuse (an 11% increase in incidents between 2019 and 2021), and 44% are associated with verbal abuse (a 25% increase in incidents between 2019 and 2021).
“The terrible irony is that those who dedicate their lives to healing others are the targets of increasing violence and aggression,” said NJHA President and CEO Cathy Bennett. “We can only speculate on why these incidents are rising and the degree to which the tensions of the pandemic and our polarized society are part of it. Our goal with this report is to provide reliable data on the depth of the problem and prompt a much-needed public dialogue on our collective responsibilities to keep New Jersey healthcare workers safe.”
Workplace violence is defined as physical attacks, verbal abuse, threats and other forms of aggression. In its analysis of the survey data, NJHA’s Center for Health Analytics, Research and Transformation found that physical attacks (50%) and verbal abuse (43.5%) were the most common forms of workplace violence in the hospital setting. The overwhelming number of incidents are perpetrated by patients themselves representing 84% of all events, followed by coworkers (8.7%) and relatives of patients (7%). The findings are based on survey responses from 66% of the state’s acute care hospitals, and then extrapolated to reflect a statewide total of 71 hospitals.
With its 24/7 public access, the most common location for workplace violence in the hospital is the emergency department, although hospitals report incidents occurring in various units.
These incidents have increased despite state laws intended to protect healthcare workers, including the 2007 Violence Prevention in Health Care Facilities Act and a 2021 law that allows healthcare workers to only display their first name and second initial on their employee ID badges. Hospital employers also have taken a long list of actions to protect workers such as providing staff panic alarms, creating protective barriers in workstations, increasing parking lot security and relocating employees who have been subject to aggression. In addition, pending proposed legislation, the Health Care Heroes Violence Prevention Act, seeks to extend the protection against workplace violence by increasing the penalties for threatening or committing violence against healthcare workers.
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