Violence against nurses: Steven Slater’s experience can’t compare

If you believe flight attendants have it bad, read this article about violence against nurses. I hope Slater doesn’t consider nursing as his next career choice.

Nurses fear even more ER assaults as programs cut

Emergency room nurse Erin Riley suffered bruises, scratches and a chipped tooth last year from trying to pull the clamped jaws of a psychotic patient off the hand of a doctor at a suburban Cleveland hospital.

A second assault just months later was even more upsetting: She had just finished cutting the shirt off a drunken patient and was helping him into his hospital gown when he groped her.

“The patients always come first — and I don’t think anybody has a question about that — but I don’t think it has to be an either-or situation,” said Riley, a registered nurse for five years.

Violence against nurses and other medical professionals appears to be increasing around the country as the number of drug addicts, alcoholics and psychiatric patients showing up at emergency rooms climbs.

Enough is enough

“It’s come to the point where nurses are saying, `Enough is enough. The slapping, screaming and groping are not part of the job,'” said Joseph Bellino, president of the International Association for Healthcare Security and Safety, which represents professionals who manage security at hospitals.

Visits to ERs for drug- and alcohol-related incidents climbed from about 1.6 million in 2005 to nearly 2 million in 2008, according to the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. From 2006 to 2008, the number of those visits resulting in violence jumped from 16,277 to 21,406, the agency said.

Nurses and experts in mental health and addiction say the problem has only been getting worse since then because of the downturn in the economy, as cash-strapped states close state hospitals, cut mental health jobs, eliminate addiction programs and curtail other services.

Acceptance of violence

“There’s a real acceptance of violence. We’re still dealing with that really intensely,” said Donna Graves, a University of Cincinnati professor who is helping the federal government study solutions.

Robert Glover, executive director of the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors, said economic hard times are the worst time for cuts to mental health programs because anxieties about job loss and lack of insurance increase drug and alcohol use and family fights.

“Most of them, if it’s a crisis, will end up in emergency rooms,” he said.

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