Nurses and other hospital employees enter the profession because they want to take care of people. But we know that too often they can become victims of violent acts on the job as they deliver that care.

Consider these two data points: Nurses are more likely to be assaulted at work than police officers, and they are nearly five times more likely to be injured on the job and miss work than other professions.

Hospitals have been working to prevent workplace violence for years, but facilities managers weren’t always sure how to go about it. “We didn’t have the tools to be effective,” said Elaine LaRochelle, facilities director at Grande Ronde Hospital in La Grande. LaRochelle knew she needed evidence-based tools.

When the Oregon Association of Hospitals & Health Systems (OAHHS) started the Workplace Violence Prevention project in 2014, we quickly saw that there wasn’t a comprehensive set of resources available for continuously addressing hospital employee safety.

Working with partners at the Oregon Nurses Association (ONA) and SEIU Local 49, we created a Workplace Violence Prevention toolkit that is now a national model. It helps hospitals assess their security environments and practices and come up with solutions that address each community’s specific needs.

At Grande Ronde, that means there is now a fortified glass window at the emergency department intake desk, doors that lock nights and weekends, and more security personnel. Those employees are also trained to greet patients and fetch wheelchairs to create a friendly and calming atmosphere. LaRochelle said the changes have made a huge difference.

The toolkit also helps hospitals evaluate a patient’s risk for violence, provides new tools for recording and tracking incidents, and assists with educating and training staff, whether they work directly with patients or not.

We also know that the work does not stop with the creation of the toolkit. We are proud to be working with our labor partners to further build momentum in Salem and across the state. OAHHS and ONA shaped the final language for Senate Bill 823A, which standardizes the schedule for hospital security check-ins every two years and clarifies anti-retaliation rules for employees that report violent incidences. The bill also directs hospitals to use a validated resource like the toolkit.

Oregon lawmakers have praised the effort. “I love this bill,” said Rep. Alissa Keny-Guyer, who called out the groups that have teamed up on a shared goal of better workplace safety.

Lawmakers passed SB 823 in June and it has been signed by the governor. It goes into effect Jan. 1, 2020. We applaud the Legislature for its bipartisan support, because we believe this bill and the toolkit will make a difference in keeping workers safe.

Hospital employees sacrifice so much to do a difficult job and care for people, some of whom are at their worst possible moment. We owe it to those caregivers to do all we can to make sure they stay out of harm’s way on the job.

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Katie Harris is director of rural health and federal policy at the Oregon Association of Hospitals & Health Systems.

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