The Rhode Island health system is aiming to make a difference with its campaign, "ScottStrong: Keep Healthcare Workers Safe."
In the weeks after the horrific assault of a nurse, the Lifespan health system started what it hopes is a movement.
The Rhode Island system has launched an effort to make the public aware of the rising violence against healthcare workers, and to enlist public support to help protect nurses, doctors and other staff members. Hospitals and health systems across America say they’ve seen more incidents of violence in recent years.
On Sept. 8, Scott Amaral, a nurse at Rhode Island Hospital, was seriously injured by a patient. The suspect is facing charges for the assault, according to WPRI-TV and other media outlets.
Two weeks ago, Lifespan kicked off a campaign: #ScottStrong, Keep Healthcare Workers Safe. The health system has invited the public to sign an online petition to show their support for a policy of zero tolerance for violence and harassment of healthcare workers.
Cynthia Danner, senior vice president and chief nursing officer at Rhode Island Hospital and its Hasbro Children’s Hospital, says the effort began as a show of support for Amaral. She adds that Amaral is “all about safety,” and after consulting his family, the system sought to raise public awareness about violence in health systems.
“It touches every hospital, across the country, and in any type of environment,” Danner tells Chief Healthcare Executive®. “And so, with the permission of the family, we started this campaign. And we are asking the public and everyone who walks through our doors or of our hospitals to take a pledge to keep our healthcare workers safe.”
(Lifespan leaders talk about the campaign in this video. The story continues below.)
‘These incidents still occur’
Amaral has been released from the hospital and is improving, but Lifespan officials say they couldn’t offer more details, citing patient privacy regulations.
Lifespan has promoted the #ScottStrong campaign on social media, along with billboards and other signs. Next week, Lifespan will have a #ScottStrong Day for the system’s staff, with activities planned through the day. Everyone will receive #ScottStrong shirts.
G. Dean Roye, senior vice president for medical affairs and chief medical officer at Rhode Island Hospital, says he’s been encouraged by the feedback from the community, and other hospitals have been supportive as well. To date, more than 1,600 people have signed the system’s online pledge.
Roye tells Chief Healthcare Executive that Lifespan employees have been very engaged, but he acknowledges that many are dismayed by the increased harassment and attacks they have experienced.
“I also think that there's frustration because they know they shouldn't have to deal with these sorts of things. And these incidents still occur,” Roye says.
Employees are increasingly reporting incidents of abuse. Beyond the greater reporting, Roye says, “I think also objectively, there's also an increase in the violence that we're seeing.”
Danner adds that nurses are perhaps more susceptible to violence, since they are in hospital rooms more than physicians. “Workforce violence has been top of mind for nursing,” she says.
However, Danner notes that other workers have been abused as well.
“I would not say it's limited to just nurses,” Danner says. “It could be a nursing assistant, a physician, a resident. We've had a cross section of healthcare workers.”
Given the wide variety of employees who have been assaulted or harassed, Danner says that’s why the campaign talks about violence against all healthcare workers.
“This is not just physicians or nurses,” Roye says. “It really is anybody who's in the hospital providing care is susceptible to the randomness of workplace violence right now.”
Some attacks in hospitals and health systems have been deadly in recent months. An unarmed security guard was fatally shot in the maternity ward of an Oregon hospital in August. A hand surgeon was shot and killed in an orthopedic clinic in Tennessee.
Yet nurses, physicians and healthcare leaders say many assaults occur in hospitals with little public attention. More than two nurses are assaulted every hour, and 57 assaults on nurses occur each day, according to a report from Press Ganey. Most emergency physicians say they’ve seen increased violence, according to a September 2022 poll by the American College of Emergency Physicians.
Seeking a safer place to heal
Lifespan is working to improve safety throughout the system, Roye and Danner say. Even before Amaral’s assault, employees were getting more training in de-escalation techniques, Danner says. Lifespan also has a committee on workplace violence.
“Things are in place, but we can always do better,” Danner says.
She says the system is also going to employees to gather their feedback on ways to improve safety.
“We're not in a vacuum thinking we know everything. As we have rounded, we've taken their feedback, and looked at some of the areas seriously and what we can do,” Danner says.
The system is adding security staff and looking to bring on additional personnel, Roye says. But he says it’s not easy to find security workers, and it’s been a challenge at other health systems.
Lifespan is looking at other solutions, including scanning, detection and better communications, to bolster security. Danner says that the system is also looking to enhance training to staff about how they position themselves in a room to help protect themselves.
Lifespan employees are being encouraged to speak up if they see a potentially problematic situation.
Both Roye and Danner say they see the potential for the campaign to make a difference.
“Together with this community awareness, and the campaign that we have right now, we can create and maintain a peaceful, safe environment for our patients to heal,” Danner says.
“We need our patients to be able to heal in an environment, and our family and friends to be able to come to any hospital or healthcare area, to support their loved ones or their friend, and then the medical professionals are able to work,” she adds. “And that would be our goal with the campaign and keeping our environment where we work, a safe and respectful, peaceful environment.”
(This is the first in an ongoing series of stories looking at what hospitals are doing to reduce violence. to share ideas or suggestions, please contact Ron Southwick, senior editor of Chief Healthcare Executive: [email protected])