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When the San Antonio Methodist Hospital security guard met with the visitor at the door of the children’s emergency room on a Saturday afternoon in early August, the officer’s request went be simple: the man needed temperature control to make sure he was showing no early signs. of COVID-19 before entering the hospital.
The man refused, fidgeted and started yelling angrily, pulling out the camera to record the guard and hospital staff.
The scene became so tense that San Antonio police were called, but the man – the identity and reason he wanted to be admitted to the hospital – was not included in a police report. ‘incident- erupted in anger before the officer could arrive.
It was, relatively speaking, a small explosion, but Texas hospital workers and health officials say incidents like this have increased in number and intensity this summer as tensions boil over the fourth wave fueled by delta of hospitalizations by COVID-19.
“Our staff has been cursed, screamed at, threatened with bodily harm and even stabbed,” said Jane McCurley, chief nursing executive at the Methodist Health System, at a news conference five days after the ‘incident in children’s emergencies. “It simply came to our notice then. … It’s just a handful at every facility that has been extremely abusive. But there is certainly a growing number of occurrences every day.
Nurses and hospital staff are historically vulnerable to violence in the workplace due to the nature of their workplace, where they deal with people who have bad drug reactions on the street or mental interruptions and often have to give bad news. to patients or relatives who already have extreme pain or emotional distress.
Half of all Texas nurses reported verbal and verbal physical abuse at work in 2016; last year, Texas health officials surveyed them.
Karen Garvey, Vice President of Patient Safety and Clinical Risk Management at Parkland Health & Hospital System in Dallas.
Garvey said the clashes in Parkland just this year have included “people who received punches in the chest, who threw urine at them and inappropriate sexual behavior or behavior in front of staff members. Verbal abuse, calls, racial insults … we had broken bones, broken noses ”.
Visitors and patients attacking hospital staff “was an epidemic before the pandemic; it was just silent for the public, ”he added. “Healthcare workers have been dealing with this for years, and the COVID pandemic has become more pronounced.”
The rise in pandemic-related tensions in the United States is not unique to the hospital industry. Airlines report an increase in aggressive passengers as flight attendants take self-defense classes. Police report an increase in incidents of violent crime and anger.
A similar phenomenon arose last year when store and grocery store workers became front-line managers of mask mandates and the boundaries of meetings and indoor activities. And it resurfaced last month when parents aggressively confronted school teachers over the often-changing mask rules.
But unlike airlines, which can permanently ban passengers, hospitals are more limited in how they respond to or prevent such instances.
A 2013 Texas law made it a felony to assault an emergency nurse, but legislation that would have expanded to include nurses in other areas of a hospital died in the Texas Senate earlier this year. The U.S. Congress is currently studying a bill in Washington on this issue.
With hospitals reporting historic nursing shortages as the pandemic lengthens, fears are that the “alarming pace” of climbing will be the last straw for nurses who are physically worn out after battling a pandemic for 18 months, lacking in compassion for people in need of care after choosing not to get vaccinated and being afraid for their own personal safety, said Houston pediatrician Giancarlos Toledanes.
“With the escalation of this violence towards health workers, we will lose workers who are considered essential,” Toledanes said. “If the problem continues to get worse, I think it will make it much harder to staff these hospitals.”
“Temperers are high”
The Texas State Department of Health Services is not tracking incidents of assault on hospital staff outside of its periodic surveys, the next one will be done next year, a spokesman said.
But while Texas health officials see ICUs and hospital pediatric units overflowing with a record number of unvaccinated people, they say the increase in aggression toward health workers is evident.
Many of the issues reported in recent months include disagreements over masking and detection protocols that people should not follow elsewhere, especially after Gov. Greg Abbott banned most mandatory protocols in recent months, according to officials reported.
Sometimes clashes are caused by waiting hours or days in emergency rooms that are so full of patients with COVID-19 that there is no room for anyone else, health professionals said.
“Temperatures are high,” said Carrie Kroll, director of defense for the Texas Hospital Association. “To the point that some systems are putting a security guard on check-in because family members are so abusive about masking and some of the other things they have to do.”
Families are often upset when they cannot visit someone because of COVID-19 rules that limit the number of people who can be in bed or even go to the hospital, said Serena Bumpus, director of internships at the Texas Nurses Association.
“When our family members are sick, we want to be by their side and it’s not so easy to be by our loved ones because of this increase in the number of COVID patients in our facilities,” he said.
On the Katy campus of Texas Children’s Hospital west of Houston, Toledanes said some parents verbally reject rules that force them to wait for COVID-19 test results before more than one is allowed. father entering the room with a sick child.
“With your son in the hospital and they’re the only ones handling everything, it obviously gets stressful,” she said. “It has intensified a lot more, especially now that we have become a little stricter with our policies” due to the increase.
Healthcare workers face online harassment
Threats are also followed by online health workers and often have to do with philosophical differences over what have become political buttons such as masking and vaccinations, Toledanes wrote in a recent column for the medical journal. MedScape online.
“Online, health workers who advocate masking or vaccination are often subject to death threats, threats to family members, and verbal abuse on social media,” he wrote. “The veiled threats of ‘we know who you are’ and ‘we’ll find you’ follow the doctors who advocate masking in schools.”
In Parkland, some of the administration’s actions to protect workers include a staff of six peacekeepers in mental health (known as police intervention personnel for environmental and patient safety personnel) who are specially trained to respond to high-risk incidents, Garvey said. Administrators have developed a marking system in the patient registry that identifies patients who have been identified as known risks to staff, he said.
Some hospitals have hung signs in the hallways reminding families to be polite and patient with busy staff.
In mid-August, rising reports prompted the Texas Hospital Association to target social media with a picture of an exhausted nurse’s face, with the mask pulled under her chin. .
“Don’t forget the person behind the mask,” the image says.
McCurley said the growing violence this year is exacerbated by the contrast in attitudes now seen by workers compared to a year ago, when the public seemed to understand that nurses and hospital staff were between them and the deadly pandemic.
“We were seen as heroes of health and our community responded with love and support, food and gifts, parades in cars, buses, motorcycles and planes, and we felt so much love and support. It gave us the courage to come in and face our own fears in the face of the unknown at first, ”McCurley told a press conference in August. “Today, these health workers experience abusive behavior on the part of patients’ families. It’s unfathomable that it’s happening and it has to stop. “
Outreach: Texas Children’s Hospital and the Texas Hospital Association have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations, and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters have no role in Tribune journalism. Here is a complete list.
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