Imagine you are enjoying dinner at your favorite restaurant. In the front door walks a man — angry, loud, belligerent and apparently intoxicated. What do you do? If you’re like most people, you probably either do nothing or call the police and head in the other direction — out of harm’s way — as you should. You are certainly under no obligation to confront this man.
Now imagine that same scenario at your local emergency department. You are a first responder, emergency department nurse, physician or patient-care tech. What do you do now? The answer in this case isn’t to head the other direction.
This scenario takes place in the emergency departments of our state nearly every day. Federal law requires every patient who comes to the emergency department to undergo a “medical screening exam.” Those of us in your local emergency department are proud to uphold this mandate; in fact, we wear it like a badge of honor. We care for every patient who comes through our doors regardless of his or her ability to pay.
But that same mandate inherently places us at substantially increased risk of being injured or assaulted at our place of work. Consider, according to the New England Journal of Medicine and other authorities:
▪ Nearly 75 percent of all workplace assaults in the United States occur in a health-care setting.
▪ Almost eight in 10 emergency physicians nationwide report being the target of physical violence over the past year.
▪ Nearly 75 percent of emergency attendings in Michigan had been subject to at least one verbal threat over the previous year, while 28 percent had been assaulted and nearly 12 percent had been confronted outside the hospital.
▪ One hundred percent of emergency department nurses reported verbal assault, and more than 80 percent reported physical assault over the past year.
▪ One in four nurses reported experiencing physical violence more than 20 times over the previous three years, and indicated that they had been verbally abused more than 200 times over that period.
Simply put, we deserve to feel safe at work.
I am extraordinarily proud to work alongside an amazing group of nurses, physicians, paramedics, emergency medical technicians and many others. They are dedicated and caring professionals, and they are deeply committed to their work. Simply put, we deserve to feel safe at work.
The emergency department is the health-care safety net — available 24/7/365 in times of need. It benefits all of us to protect this valuable societal resource and the people who work inside those walls. It is time to stand with the 32 other states that have decided to change the culture of health care and say that violence is not “just part of the job.”
That’s why the I am joining with the S.C. College of Emergency Physicians and the S.C. Emergency Nurses Association in calling on our state legislators to protect our state’s health-care workers by supporting H.3483 to increase the penalty for assault and battery on a health-care professional. And I would ask everyone to contact their legislators and encourage them to support this bill.
Dr. Kiker is president of the S.C. College of Emergency Physicians and medical director of emergency services at Palmetto Health Baptist-Parkridge; contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.