About half of hospital nurses say workplace violence is rising

More nurses are reporting violent incidents, according to a poll by National Nurses United. Nurses also said staffing problems are getting worse.

Nurses say they are seeing more violence in the workplace, more staffing shortages, and they are struggling with anxiety and depression.

Those are the key findings of a recent survey by National Nurses United, America’s largest union representing registered nurses. More than 2,500 nurses participated in the survey and expressed troubling sentiments.

The survey comes amidst a host of reports and studies about the stress nurses have endured during the COVID-19 pandemic. Some nurses have left the profession or said they will walk away in the near future.

About half of hospital nurses (48%) reported a small or significant increase in workplace violence, according to the survey. That’s a sharp increase from previous surveys by National Nurses United. In September 2021, 30.6% of nurses said there was more workplace violence, while 21.9% said they saw more work-related violence in a March 2021 survey.

Zenei Triunfo-Cortez, president of National Nurses United, said the findings are disturbing.

“We are now more than three years into the pandemic and not only is staffing worse, but workplace violence is increasing,” Triunfo-Cortez, who is a registered nurse, said in a statement.

“Nurses are experiencing alarming levels of moral distress and moral injury due to the unsafe working conditions,” she said. “Since our last survey in September 2021, even more nurses have reported feeling more stress and anxiety as well as feeling traumatized by their experiences caring for patients.”

Nurses have endured violence at the workplace long before the COVID-19 pandemic. A 2016 report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics found workplace violence accounted for 12% of all injuries to nurses. Some nurses and advocates say statistics on workplace violence don’t tell the full story, since many nurses don’t report incidents of violence.

Regardless, the stress and tensions of the COVID-19 pandemic have led to more violent incidents, some nurses say.

More than two-thirds of nurses (69%) said staffing has worsened in the most recent poll, again topping previous surveys. In September 2021, 57% said staffing was getting worse.

And 64.5% of nurses said their healthcare organizations are using excessive overtime to meet staffing needs, according to the new survey.

Many nurses have said they are struggling with their mental health, and the new poll from National Nurses United supplements previous studies and surveys.

More than 3 out of 4 nurses (77%) said they feel more anxious than they did before the pandemic, while 68.7% said they feel sad or depressed more often than they did before the pandemic.

Nearly a quarter of nurses (23%) said they sought treatment for a mental health condition related to caring for COVID-19 patients. That’s an 87% increase since the last NNU poll in September 2021.

While more nurses are getting some assistance, advocates for nurses said too many nurses refuse to seek mental health treatment.

Some mental health advocates say nurses, along with doctors and other healthcare workers, don’t seek help due to the stigma surrounding mental health issues. Some fear they will be letting down colleagues or worry that it could hurt their careers.

Advocates stress healthcare leaders must make sure workers know they can and should ask for help without worrying about damaging their careers.

The survey reflects responses from 2,575 nurses in all 50 states plus Washington, D.C. The nurses were surveyed between Feb. 2, 2022 to March 20, 2022. The poll included responses from nurses who are part of National Nurses United and non-union nurses, the group said. (Here's the full survey.)

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