I currently work as an RN [registered nurse] at both a large urban medical center and our local hospital. As a nursing student in 1986, I sustained my first injury while trying to care for a mentally ill patient. What I naively thought back then was a “once-in-a-lifetime” occurrence is now commonplace in hospitals both big and small.
Many of my co-workers have also been injured by patients in the course of trying to provide safe, quality care. We know this problem has been getting worse because of the downturn in the economy, as cash-strapped states close facilities, cut mental health care, eliminate addiction programs and curtail other resources. Washington state ranks nearly last in the U.S. in funding mental health care. Patients with significant histories of violence and/or mental illness are brought into emergency rooms because there is nowhere else to take them. Since there is nowhere to send them for appropriate mental health care, they stay at the hospital, putting care providers directly in harm’s way.
When a policeman goes out on the job, they know they may encounter violence and are equipped to protect and defend. In health care, we have no such protection. It is important to combat the notion among police, prosecutors, courts — and sometimes, nurses themselves, who are often reluctant to press charges — that violence is just part of our job. The sad reality is that nursing is quickly becoming one of the most assaulted professions.
This issue has recently become even more personal for me. Two of my three children have chosen to enter the health care field. My pride is tempered with fear. Where in the past I worried about their exposure to infectious diseases or back injuries, I now also caution them to not get assaulted or to take seriously the threat of a deranged patient who says they will “come after them” when they finish their shift.
I urge you to consider the roots of this issue and speak to someone in the profession. Then, join us to bring changes about, for the good of the patients we serve and for those who take care of them.
TRISH NILSEN, RN