Health systems must modernize violence prevention plans
By Megan Headley
The healthcare industry knows it has a workplace violence problem, but it’s had a hard time shifting the cultural perception that this violence is unavoidable. As one paper describing the prevalence, forms, and consequences of healthcare workplace violence proclaimed in its title, “Workplace Violence in Health Care—It’s Not ‘Part of the Job.’ ”
This acceptance may be one reason the U.S. House passed the Workplace Violence Prevention for Health Care and Social Service Workers Act, HR 1195, in April 2021. The bill, now with the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, would require the Occupational Safety & Health Administration to develop an enforceable healthcare-specific standard around workplace violence prevention. Hospitals, home health agencies, long-term care facilities, and others would be required to develop and implement a comprehensive workplace violence protection plan in compliance with the standard’s requirements.
Glenn Farrant, CEO of the security management solution provider CriticalArc, adds that the acceptance of healthcare’s comparatively higher workplace violence rates may stem from the long-standing difficulty in rapidly responding to incidents. But with today’s technology becoming more advanced, this attitude is no longer appropriate, Farrant says.
As Farrant works with healthcare organizations to modernize their approach to security, he’s identified three areas where health systems most need to make change.
- Prioritize integrated security strategies
Many of healthcare facilities’ workplace violence solutions are passive in nature. They spend millions of dollars on CCTV systems to monitor what’s happening in hallways, and on unmonitored audible alarms meant to deter attackers. And while these solutions are invaluable in analyzing events after the fact, they don’t always help coordinate an in-the-moment response.
More proactive approaches tend to focus on staff training, Farrant finds. “Workplace violence prevention training often focuses on having situational awareness, as well as being able to identify situations that may escalate and avoiding them or de-escalating [people] before they become physically or verbally violent,” he says.
Being able to connect these two strategies through an integrated approach—most notably using today’s location-based response systems—could help. When a team member feels threatened, geographically focused systems can be critical in securing an immediate response from security.
“Additionally, there’s the opportunity to leverage other resources, not just the security teams,” Farrant points out. “Everyone’s got a stake in safety in these environments. Are there people close by in the department who can act as support in the event of an incident? Are there certain people who are trained or identified as experts in de-escalation? If a situation is occurring, are they available and can they be brought into a situation to assist?”
However, it’s also critical to analyze every response to identify opportunities for improvement. It’s important to identify whether appropriate resources were nearby and, if available, deployed.
“If a situation has occurred, can you go back and analyze it and see what decisions were made?” Farrant asks. He advises healthcare systems use every event as a chance to ask: “Did we make the right decision? Did we utilize the right resources? And did we manage that in the most effective and immediate way?”
- Deploy broader security solutions
Healthcare systems have long struggled to integrate their security approach consistently across an organization. This challenge is now becoming more pronounced as healthcare services extend further into the community, into retail health centers, and now into patients’ homes.
“Hospitals take staff and patient safety extremely seriously, and they’re investing in a lot of solutions, but to this point, solutions have largely been piecemeal,” Farrant says. Wireless staff duress systems may be limited to a single building on campus or certain areas within a building. Even if these systems are integrated throughout the building, that range doesn’t always extend to all areas covered by staff.
“These systems are very expensive to deliver and roll out and maintain, so there’s an economic limit on how far these systems can spread,” Farrant says. “We don’t have to replace those existing systems. They work great in the areas that they cover, but they don’t cover anywhere near the expanse needed.”
This is beginning to change with location-based systems that can alert nearby staff, security teams, and local police, depending on the nearest available response.
For example, CriticalArc’s SafeZone® solution utilizes Bluetooth® infrastructure from Gozio Health to help healthcare staff call for emergency help or routine assistance in any location, indoors or out, using either their smartphones or a dedicated wearable alarm. This means that someone facing an issue on campus might have their call for help directed straight to the hospital security team, while a call sent from a medical office building might be directed to local police as well as system administration to ensure the administration is aware of any risks. “It’s all about providing location and context-sensitive safety management across the huge spectrum of scenarios that a healthcare organization has,” Farrant says.
- Consider all risks
As emergency management systems work to enlist a broader range of first responders, this gives organizations the ability to more broadly define risk. As mental health becomes an increasing challenge for not just patients but also healthcare staff, clinicians who need access to burnout or behavioral health support can also be directed to available mental health services.
“Having resources for staff to be able to report or get help if they’re feeling under pressure—if their mental health is at risk—is really important because that can contribute to situations around staff or patient safety,” Farrant says. “If you’ve had team members that aren’t feeling like they can get support they need or get the services they need, staff support resources go alongside these programs for identifying situations and response.”
Having an organizationally integrated emergency response solution also means that an individual doesn’t have to take time to think about who is available in the minute to help at their specific location. They just need to hit the button to be connected with geographic- and context-specific help.
It’s time to do a better job
Employees, regulators, and patients will increasingly expect health systems to be capable of launching an immediate response to a request for help.
“Until five to 10 years ago, there really wasn’t a way to do this any better. It was completely acceptable to have the traditional mechanisms in place. But now there is a way to do things better—understanding that best practice and looking to innovate in those areas because there’s actually rich possibilities in doing things better in this area,” Farrant says. “There’s an opportunity now, with new types of security systems, to do a better job.”