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What if I was assaulted by a patient at work?

In February 2015, National Public Radio (NPR) conducted a five-part investigative series on injured nurses and how hospitals have mistreated their injured healthcare workers when they suffer a workplace injury.

After their series, in approximately June 2015, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) launched their own initiative to inspect hospitals and enforce safety compliance in an effort to reduce injuries. Should hospitals not implement or comply with appropriate workplace safety, which includes more training and providing appropriate devices to assist with lifting, OSHA can impose fines ranging from $7,000.00 to $70,000.00. 

The OSHA website designated for the occupational safety of healthcare workers provides information about proper training techniques, best practices and attempts to breakdown barriers over myths hospital executives have long since held over costs for special devices to aid nurses in lifting patients. It also includes the OSHA Memo to healthcare facilities, which indicates inspectors will be specifically focused on injuries that have occurred from lifting or moving patients, workplace violence, blood-borne pathogens, Tuberculosis and general slips and falls.

While OSHA contends to review and cite issues, some are hard-pressed to believe the agency will be able to inspect enough hospitals to make a significant impact across the country, especially considering some injuries are underreported. Workplace violence is one such underreported.

According to Dr. James P. Phillips in The New England Journal of Medicine, healthcare workers are highly exposed to violence from patients or their family members while they provide care. In 2014, a study on hospital crime indicated this type of workplace violence was classified as a Type II assault and account for 75% of aggravated assaults and 93% of all assaults against an employee. Where a fatality occurred as a result, 25% of them occurred while the employee was at work. Because nurses and nursing assistants spend the most time with patients, the rates of assault and battery are among the highest, with emergency room nurses reporting incidents occurring approximately 82% of the time.

While a number of states have some safety measures in place, Dr. Phillips suggests more can still be done if healthcare workers were provided with self-defense training and education on how to de-escalate an aggressive patient. Additionally, he suggests in addition to training, facilities should provide security cameras and guards while increasing onsite staff during peak hours. Furthermore, he suggests healthcare facilities provide a simple method for their employees to report such incidents without fear of retaliatory consequences and to provide support.

Assault and battery are criminal offenses. However, if you were injured and the incident occurred while you were caring for a patient, it's important that you report the work-related injury to your employer right away. After making your initial report, contact a knowledgeable attorney who practices workers' compensation to discuss your options. 

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