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Mass-notification systems can improve communication in healthcare facilities.

On Saturday morning, October 22, 2022, two hospital employees were killed near the labor and delivery wing at Dallas Methodist hospital in Dallas, Texas. The previous month, shots were fired at a hospital in Sherwood, Arkansas, killing one.

Over 600,000 Americans visit hospitals daily, and these facilities’ fast-paced, emotional environment makes them prime targets for violent events. Recently, violent incidents against healthcare workers from patients and families have increased.

Healthcare organizations employ strong protocols for managing critical and violent events, and mass notification systems are essential to these practices. However, since violence at hospitals and medical facilities is rising, mass notification systems to alert employees of critical events are becoming more important than ever.

Why are violent incidents against healthcare workers rising?

To an outsider, a hospital may seem like a fast-paced and well-oiled machine where everyone confidently takes on their role. However, a hospital can represent a stressful place physically and emotionally for patients and their families. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, healthcare workers will experience five times more violent incidents at their workplace than in any other industry.

COVID-19 only heightened the stressful healthcare environment and magnified the challenges healthcare workers face trying to mitigate violence in the workplace. In addition, understaffing and increased patient loads during the pandemic strained the healthcare industry and placed excessive stress on healthcare workers.

Several key statistics illustrate the increase in violent acts at hospitals and medical facilities:

  • National Nurses United surveyed over 15,000 US registered nurses and found that 20% reported increased on-the-job violence due to COVID-19 stressors such as understaffing.
  • The American Hospital Association (AHA) reported that 44% of nurses experienced physical violence on the job during the COVID-19 pandemic. 
  • In a survey of 320 US hospitals, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services stated, “operating in ‘survival mode’ for an extended period of time has created new and different problems than experienced earlier in the pandemic and exacerbated longstanding challenges in health care delivery, access, and health outcomes.” The report also highlighted that understaffing impacted patient care, and exhaustion and trauma affected staff’s mental well-being.

On the patients’ side, those seeking treatment during COVID-19 were already at higher stress levels due to fear of infection and lockdown measures. In addition, given the disruptions brought on by COVID-19, patients experienced gaps in care.

But COVID-19 is not the only reason more violent incidents against healthcare staff by patients and families are growing. As people age, the rate of chronic diseases will rise, requiring more people to need healthcare services. Additionally, many people did not seek medical care during the pandemic but are now more frequently visiting healthcare facilities. These added workloads impact patient care satisfaction and quality of care.

The labor shortage will also impact patients’ well-being, influencing individuals to retaliate against healthcare workers. The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) reported that the US nursing shortage expects to rise as the number of Registered Nurses (RNs) begin to retire and the need for healthcare grows as the population ages. The Bureau of Labor Statistics expects the demand for RNs to grow from 3.1 million in 2021 to 3.3 million in 2031.

These gaps in care impact patients, patient’s families and healthcare workers psychologically. These factors also increased behavioral issues, which heightened the risk of violent acts against healthcare workers at hospitals and medical facilities.

Why are hospitals and medical facilities prone to violent acts?

Once considered safe and trustworthy, hospitals and medical facilities are now viewed with skepticism.

Healthcare workers’ increased gaps in patient care during COVID-19 damaged patients’ satisfaction and changed their opinions regarding the quality of care they would receive. These factors also undermined the trust patients have in healthcare workers. Unfortunately, this only provoked some individuals to act against staff at hospitals and healthcare facilities, sometimes violently. For example, in June 2022, a patient in Tulsa, Oklahoma, shot his surgeon and three others, blaming the doctor for his pain.

A recent study by OSHA found that workplace violence incidents were four times more common in the healthcare industry than in the private sector, even though most workers didn’t report the violent acts they experienced. Remarkably, the report showed that no other sector showed a significant amount of serious violent injuries in the workplace compared to healthcare.

In addition, incidents involving an active shooter usually occur at healthcare facilities; whether these are murder/suicides or mercy killings, they often result in the death of a patient, shooter, or security officer. According to the Joint Commission, between 2010 and 2020, 39 shootings took place in healthcare facilities. Of those, “21 were staff members (10 shot by a patient, five shot by a visitor, four shot by a family member, and two shot by a current or former staff member); 18 were patients (15 shot by a family member; two shot by a visitor; and one shot by another patient).”  

Why do hospitals and medical facilities use mass notification systems?

Healthcare organizations use substantial protocols to mitigate harm to their patients and employees during unforeseen, violent events. One essential piece of these healthcare worker safety policies includes mass notification systems.

Hospitals and healthcare organizations are familiar with mass notification systems. They have utilized them for multiple purposes, including natural disasters and collaborating on a patient’s care. In emergencies like an active shooter, a wide-reaching and effective communication plan and method, such as a mass notification system, is critical for reducing injuries and fatalities and keeping the facilities operational.

The unique characteristics of hospitals and medical facilities also play a role in why mass notification systems can improve operations and communication through unforeseen emergencies. For example, hospitals typically have open and large emergency rooms, hazardous materials and secured areas that require special procedures and protocols. Additionally, the human factor or “duty to care” for people is a special consideration in creating sound communication methods for healthcare workers to follow and effectively use in a crisis.

How hospitals and medical facilities benefit from mass notification systems

The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, staff shortages and stress due to an increase in patient workloads underscore the importance of having a functional mass notification system as part of a medical organization’s policies and procedures.  

Mass notification systems alert people of critical events such as natural disasters or workplace shootings. However, healthcare facilities can also benefit from using mass notification systems in the following ways:

  • Quickly respond to critical events and ensure continued operations and patient safety
  • Enhance communication within healthcare facilities
  • Collaborate across teams to improve patient care and patient satisfaction
  • Manage staffing needs and schedule changes
  • Communicate important information and policy updates to staff
  • Report pertinent updates to patients

Final Thoughts

The impacts of COVID-19, the labor shortage and the increased number of patients seeking medical care have contributed to the rising incidents of violence by patients and families in hospitals and medical facilities. The increased workload and understaffing raised stress levels in healthcare workers, which created gaps in patient care. These pressures affected patients and families, with many experiencing higher levels of psychological stress and behavioral issues.

Hospitals and medical facilities increasingly need sound policies and procedures and well-trained staff. They also need the ability to communicate quickly with each other in the event of an emergency. Mass notification systems can help save lives and continue operations during emergencies. 

Although different circumstances may still lead to spur-of-the-moment decisions, sound policy and procedures and mass notification systems are more critical to healthcare workers than ever.

Read the article “The Case for Mass Notification as Part of a Healthcare Communication Plan” for more information on how mass notification systems integrate into a healthcare organization’s protocols. To learn how Regroup’s mass notification systems benefit the healthcare industry and your specific organization, book a free demo.

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