Violence not part of a nurse’s job description

( I was assaulted by an intoxicated 20-year-old male as I took the patient to the phone to call his mother for a ride home. He passed me the phone and immediately punched me in the side of the face.”

These are the words of Stanley Johnson, a Temple University nurse for nearly 20 years. In August of 2011, while working night shift in the Emergency Department, he became a victim of violence, a problem that is too familiar to many nurses.

In December, I wrote about a nurse in Alabama who was assaulted at work. That lead me to some remarkable nurses in this area who were willing to share similar, personal accounts of violent assault, so that a face could rise from behind the statistics.

I’m going to share their stories over the next few weeks. Why?

Because violence is not part of our job as nurses. We need to stand together to convey a “No Tolerance Policy.”

Immediately following his attack, Johnson tells me that his peers responded first followed by the security guards (employed by an outside company), who restrained the patient. Since the attack was considered an assault, the 25th police district in Philadelphia arrested the patient.

“The Philly police support us whether it’s physical or verbal violence,” Johnson reports. “The night I was assaulted, the female [police] officer knew my face didn’t normally look like that because we work so closely night to night. She immediately went right into the patient’s room and handcuffed the guy.”

Lieutenant Ray Evers of the Philadelphia Police public affairs office says, “Nurses need to be protected, too. Safety is always an important element of the streets and these same dangers are walking directly into our ER’s without warning.”

Lieutenant Evers recommends that nurses use common sense and caution, always go to a patient bedside with another nurse, be aware of their surroundings, and recognize early signs of aggression.

For its part, Temple University Hospital System (TUHS) notes that it is working hard to lower incidences of violence.

“Temple takes seriously the issue of violence in the workplace – as the safety of our employees, patients and visitors is a key priority,” the hospital said in a statement. “Within the past year, Temple, working through its Workplace Violence Committee, has developed and implemented training programs and other security-related enhancements designed to reduce the number of violence-related incidents. Through our Employee Assistance Program, TUHS is able to dispatch a group of specially-trained counselors to any location in order to provide group or individual counseling to employees involved in a violent encounter. We can report a significant decline in the average number of complaints received about workplace violence – from about three every month to one every other month.”

Since the preliminary hearing, Johnson also had an official meeting with Temple University administration, but he thinks more can be done. Despite mandatory self defense classes, Johnson, an active member of the nurse’s union, still feels unprotected at work. He reports that there is no stationed police officer in the ER after 11 p.m., and the security officers are unarmed.

Johnson followed up with a report through the 25th district the night of the assault. He filed an incident report, and had photographs taken of his face. (He experienced pain and swelling.) In early December, he had a preliminary hearing with the assistance of the District Attorney’s office prosecuting the patient. His trial recently concluded and the defendant was sentenced to a lesser crime of simple assault, following a guilty plea. He received two-years probation, 50 hours of community service, mandated attendance at anger management classes and a drug and alcohol assessment.

What did Johnson learn from his experience? “Laws have been passed that make violence a Level 2 felony and nurses need to be aware of their rights and safety.”

Please contact me if you are a nurse who has been a victim of workplace violence. Several nurses in addition to Johnson have already spoken. I need your help to properly represent the magnitude of this problem in our community and identify solutions.

Want to learn more? The Emergency Nurses Association has been championing this topic in health care with much research trending the problem, educational opportunities and a strong media campaign.