CHARLESTON COUNTY, S.C. (WCBD) – Incidents of serious workplace violence are four times more common in healthcare than in the private industry, according to a study by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
According to the data, 80-percent of serious violent incidents reported in healthcare settings were caused by interactions with patients.
Roper St. Francis Teammate Safety Manager Stephanie Palmer said a patient’s condition can lead to aggression.
“Patients can be on medication that gives them an altered mental status, they can be confused, or they have underlying medical conditions such as dementia or Alzheimer’s,” said Palmer. “We also have psych and drug and alcohol abuse type patients that are here and can become combative or verbally aggressive,” she added.
The Medical University of South Carolina reported 133 incidents of workplace violence in 2018. 99 of the incidents reported involved patients.
Elizabeth Mack M.D. is the division chief of Pediatric Critical Care Medicine for MUSC Children’s Health. Mack said the incidents are often under-reported.
“You often don’t hear about somebody being kicked in the stomach or kicked in their teeth, hair pulled or something like that,” said Mack. “I don’t know anyone in healthcare who hasn’t been hurt,” she added.
This Summer, MUSC launched a campaign with the South Carolina Hospital Association meant to raise awareness about workplace violence while also encouraging employees to come forward.
Despite the staggering numbers, South Carolina is one of a handful of states without added legal protections for health care workers.
MUSC Chief Nursing Officer Jerry Mansfield said he hopes comprehensive reports will get the attention of state lawmakers.
“We hope that by gathering information and reporting it more statewide that our legislators will be more aware that the concern this puts our care providers in
State Representative Wendell Gilliard hosted a round table in September to hear from health care workers. He said their accounts of physical and verbal abuse were shocking.
“It is dangerous. If we don’t do anything about it, nothing happens until a tragedy presents itself,” he said.
South Carolina Senator Thomas Alexander introduced a bill that would make unlawfully injuring a healthcare professional during work an Assault and Battery of a High and Aggravated Nature offense.
Senator Alexander said he drafted the bill after he was contacted by doctors and nurses in his area who were in need of greater protections.
“So many times now- there is really no consequence to prevent them from committing some type of act against this person that is trying to help them,” said Alexander.
Another bill in the house, introduced by Representative Eddie Tallon, would subject offenders to greater maximum penalties depending on the degree of the Assault and Battery.
Mack said she thinks enforcing legislation would be difficult because patients don’t often intend to cause harm.