Nurses and healthcare professionals work around the clock to care for their patients. But what happens when patients fight back?

Nurses and healthcare professionals work around the clock to care for their patients.

What happens when patients fight back? The American Nurses Association's data shows one in four nurses are assaulted while on the job.

A proposal for new laws in Michigan could create a plan of action to prevent the violence before it happens.

"I’ve been hit. I’ve been kicked. I have been punched and spit at and scratched," one Mid-Michigan nurse said.

“It’s all the time. You get scratched and your arm twisted every day," another Mid-Michigan nurse said.

More often than not, being a nurse can be more dangerous than you may realize.

"I had and still have a little bit of undiagnosed PTSD from it because you don’t just walk away from that without some kind of scar," said Michelle Parker-Weber, a behavioral health nurse at MidMichigan Medical Center-Gratiot in Alma.

Mid-Michigan nurses are opening up to TV5 about a sad reality they face in the workplace - violence.

Registered nurse Katie Pontifex said she was recently sidelined from work after trying to stop a patient from stabbing another nurse at Sparrow Hospital in Lansing.

“In the scuffle of trying to remove the object from the patient, I was scratched on my hand and wrist, very deeply by their nails,” Pontifex said. “Turned out, he pulled my tendon at the same time in my wrist. I was on work restriction for three full months."

Parker-Weber also experienced violence firsthand.

“I got knocked right down and I’m not a young person anymore so I don’t bounce back literally like I used to. So I had physical therapy for like weeks,” Parker-Weber said. “I don’t want to use this word too heavily but you become somewhat desensitized to it because you’re just used to it."

This is all part of a nationwide problem that doesn't just affect Michigan nurses. AMN Healthcare reports 41 percent of registered nurses are victims of bullying, incivility, or other forms of workplace violence.

In the meantime, 80 percent of violent incidents in healthcare settings were caused by interactions with patients, according to data from Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Massachusetts nurse Elise Wilson knows it well, too. Two years ago, Wilson was stabbed multiple times on the job by a patient and nearly lost her life.

“I lost out finishing my career the way I wanted to. I lost out on months and months of my life," Wilson told CBS affiliate WBZ in Boston.

That led her to push for new laws to prevent workplace violence in her state.

There's also a push in Michigan. A bill is being proposed to prevent these attacks before they happen. Senate Bill 303 is sponsored by State Senator Jeff Irwin.

“They have to develop a prevention plan, develop it with their employees. They have to report these instances of workplace violence. They don’t just have to report them to the prosecutors, but also publicly,” Irwin said.

The nurses TV5 spoke to said their employers have already taken steps to ensure safety.

MidMichigan Health said they've created an employee task force to prevent workplace violence. They sent TV5 the following statement:

"At MidMichigan Health, the safety of all those that enter our doors is important to us which includes our employees, caregivers, volunteers, patients and visitors. Our facilities are a place of mutual respect and why MidMichigan Health has a zero tolerance for violence, including actions of verbal or physical aggression.

An Employee Task Force was created because MidMichigan Health wanted to take a proactive approach to keep employees safe as workers nationwide in hospitals, nursing homes, and other healthcare settings face significant risks of workplace violence.

In the coming weeks, MidMichigan Health is rolling out a poster campaign that addresses our safety initiative. The posters are a reminder to everyone in our facilities that we will not tolerate violence and if they experience or witness any concerning behavior they should report it.

The task force is also working on targeted education for departments that are at high risk for violence."

Sparrow Hospital issued the following statement to TV5:

“Patients deserve exceptional, high-quality care. Nurses deserve a safe work environment to provide that care. You can’t have one without the other. Sparrow is committed to doing everything in its power to prevent and respond to violence against our Caregivers, particularly our Nurses who are on the frontlines of care. If and when it’s necessary, we fully empower and support our Nurses in pressing charges against Patients or visitors who choose to commit acts of violence against them.

In recent months, Sparrow has adopted initiatives to both prevent violence and intervene quickly if an incident occurs, including assessing Patients for high-risk behaviors, deploying a rapid Behavioral Emergency Response Team (BERT) to de-escalate unsafe situations, and expanding the authority of our security officers. We stand with the Michigan Nurses Association to end verbal and physical assaults against our Nurses and other Caregivers.”

TV5 also inquired comment from the Michigan Health Association about workplace violence and legislation that may help. They issued the following statement:

“Michigan hospitals are dedicated to improving the safety of anyone who steps foot in a hospital, including patients and staff. The MHA continues to advocate on behalf of several pieces of legislation in the Michigan legislature that would improve workplace safety and protect those who come to work to heal others every day.

Bills in both the Michigan House (HB 4327 and HB 4328) and Senate (SB 80) would increase the penalties for those committing assault against emergency department personnel. Michigan is one of a diminishing list of states that have not enacted criminal statues specifically addressing assaults on emergency medical providers, as 32 states currently make it a felony to assault a healthcare worker or an emergency medical worker.

The MHA also continues to advocate on behalf of House Bill 4862, which expands confidentiality protections for healthcare employees that receive Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM) services. CISM is a formalized step-by-step process carried out by a team of trained peers and used by many Michigan hospitals to help employees who are involved in traumatic events, such as being a victim of violence in the workplace.

In addition to these efforts to improve workplace safety in healthcare facilities, the MHA wants to maintain hospitals ability to have safety decisions made at the local level, as member hospitals currently have best practice policies in place that reduce violence and need flexibility to choose where their resources on this issue will be the most impactful. For these reasons, the MHA supports HBs 4327, 4328, 4862, SB 80 and opposes SB 303 so that hospital personnel across the state are protected in the most appropriate way possible.

Lastly, the MHA Keystone Center, the safety and quality arm of the MHA, has recently hosted numerous training sessions, webinars, member forums and safe tables on reducing healthcare workplace violence to help members strengthen their workplace safety policies. Included in the efforts is the creation of a collaborative of member hospitals to identify, develop and implement workplace safety risk-reduction strategies, the initiation of an in-depth analysis of workplace safety-related data and hosting a statewide summit on care transitions this past summer. The MHA has also worked with a workplace violence prevention organization, HSS, to offer workplace safety training sessions to members across the state.”

The nurses TV5 spoke with said legislation is important because it brings awareness. However, acts of violence won't keep them from helping others.

"Scars come and go. They are what they are but I think it’s those good patients, the rare occasion they tell you thank you, it somehow wipes everything else away,” Pontifex said.

If Senate Bill 303 passes, hospitals will need to come up with their own prevention plan to address possible violence or incidents. The bill proposal still has yet to pass the Health Policy and Human Services Committee.

Copyright 2019 WNEM (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.

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