Emergency room nurses at risk for assaults

What’s the leading cause of non-fatal injuries requiring days off work in the health care and social assistance industry? According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, it’s violent assaults. Nurses working in every department of healthcare institutions face the risk of being assaulted, but it’s especially a problem in emergency rooms. Over 70% of emergency room nurses reported suffering physical assaults, threats of assault or verbal abuse.

The title of the study published in the Journal of Emergency Nursing underscores the hopelessness and resignation among emergency room nurses about the problem: “Nothing Changes, Nobody Cares: Understanding the Experience of Emergency Nurses Physically or Verbally Assaulted While Providing Care”. Nurses’ comments which the study quotes make sobering reading for the general public. But the experiences they describe will be all too familiar to emergency room nurses.

Injuries reported by emergency room nurses

Respondents to the study said they had suffered serious and permanent injuries to hips, shoulders, necks, and arms. Many reported that they were unable to work without pain. In addition, going to work every day knowing that they could be the victim of a violent assault puts an enormous emotional burden on nurses. As a result, many emergency room nurses decide to leave the profession.

Why are so many emergency room nurses assaulted?

Precipitating factors leading to assaults in emergency rooms include:

  • Long waiting times
  • Mentally ill patients and visitors
  • Patients and visitors who are under the influence of alcohol or drugs

But the study uncovered some other reasons for the problem:

  • Some nurses fail to recognize cues that indicate a patient or visitor is about to become violent.
  • Some emergency medical technicians fail to tell emergency room personnel when a patient was verbally abusive or made threats during the ride in the ambulance.
  • Institutional intransigence is also a factor. Some nurses reported that hospitals and the judicial system are reluctant to bring charges against violent patients, leading to a culture of acceptance regarding violence in emergency rooms.

Nurses who have suffered injuries as the result of assaults while working are eligible for workers’ compensation benefits. Speak with an attorney if you have questions about a claim or the benefits you are entitled to.

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