By JoAnne Powers, July 19, 2016
National Nurses United delivered a petition to the Occupational Safety and Hazard Administration last week, calling on OSHA to set standards to protect workers from violence in the health care industry. NNU was joined by a coalition including the AFL-CIO, American Federation of Teachers, Communications Workers of America, the Teamsters, the Steelworkers and Service Employees International Union, saying that OSHA’s current standards are insufficient to protect health care workers. Using Bureau of Labor Statistics data, the NNU says health care workers experience workplace violence several times higher than the workforce overall.
NNU Health and Safety director Bonnie Castillo says it’s an escalating problem:
[Bonnie Castillo]: “There have been severe cutbacks in health care, massive cutbacks to public health and mental health and psychiatric services, and then even in the private sector, that because it’s a profit driven industry, there’s massive cuts to services. Once, most hospitals had a psychiatric unit, for instance, and those beds have been eliminated. Some patients who need expert trained staffing and additional staffing, are put in units that are not prepared to provide the level of care that that patient requires.”
Castillo cites as a contributing factor the millions of Americans who are still without access to health care coverage:
[Bonnie Castillo]: “By the time that they show up in hospital settings there’s a pretty high level of desperation, and with that comes a high level of stress and acting out, including volatile family members.”
The union says these instances are predictable, yet hospitals are not spending appropriate resources on planning, staffing and training to deal with the situations:
[Bonnie Castillo]: “Unfortunately, it’s a profit-driven industry and what we find is that, when we’re at the table, they’re fighting us on ensuring that there’s greater protections for nurses, for health care workers, for patients. Each setting is unique and needs to have a comprehensive assessment of where there’s potential for an unsafe environment. They would have to develop an individualized plan for each area of work, including the education and training of staff, including adequate numbers of staff. Nurses and workers would have to be included in developing those plans and that’s very critical.”