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Violence Against Healthcare Workers Must End

Our deepest sympathies go out to the family of Douglas Brant, and everyone who was touched by the tragedy that took place on December 1st. RNs and healthcare professionals are on the frontlines of patient care, saving lives every day. Brant’s murder is a frightening and devastating example of violence that healthcare workers often face, something that haunts so many of us as we continue the work of keeping our communities safe.

Workplace safety and prevention is a central piece of what we are fighting for as healthcare unions and it is time our employers take this issue as seriously as we do. The Oregon Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals (OFNHP), the Oregon Nurses Association (ONA) and the Alliance of Health Care Unions, which together organize and represent more than 67,000 healthcare workers across the country, are working diligently to make our hospitals and clinics safer places to work, particularly Emergency Departments. This includes increased access to phones, “panic buttons” for crisis situations, and training on de-escalation and emergency responses.

For in-home care providers, this risk only increases as we often hold less control over the situation our healthcare professionals are stepping into. This situation demands an intervention from all healthcare administrators and employers who must see this problem with a sufficient level of urgency. Now is the time to make changes across the healthcare sector that ensures the safety and defense of our staff. This is an issue that unites all of us across different employers, units, disciplines, and union locals, and we can speak with one voice demanding that reforms ensure that each and every healthcare worker is able to return to their family when their work day is done.

We know that since the pandemic began, healthcare workers have faced increased threats of violence across the country. In a recent study, 44% of nurses report increased violence, while nearly 70% reported an increase in verbal assaults. Between 2016 and 2020, there were 207 deaths due to violence in the healthcare and social service sector, and nearly 40% of nurses report verbal threats and 13% face physical ones.

As of 2022, this situation has become amongst the worst in our history. In a three-month period 57 nurses were assaulted every day, a total of about two an hour. A full 75% of the 25,000 annual incidents of workplace violence happen to healthcare workers, and instances of workplace violence are drastically underreported as it becomes ‘part of the job’ in far too many workplaces.

We need our workplaces to make serious interventions, increase reporting transparency, and participate in creating systemic change. This “silent issue” cannot stay silent any longer: our culture’s silence on healthcare worker violence has created a lethal situation that requires an immediate change.

“We are devastated to hear about another senseless murder of a healthcare professional,” says Joshua Holt, the chair for OFNHP’s RN Bargaining Unit at Kaiser Permanente. “Our employers need to prioritize the safety of all healthcare professionals and do what is necessary to ensure that those saving lives can stay secure. Violence against healthcare workers is an epidemic that can be solved, if only they would take the action to solve it.”

This violence is not inevitable, it is the result of inaction by government institutions and our employers and we can no longer abide these oversights.

To the Brant family and all of our colleagues at the Washington State Nurses Association (WSNA), our hearts are with you and we commit to doing whatever is necessary to support those impacted by this senseless act of violence. By working together, our solidarity becomes the greatest tool we have in defending both staff and patients.

“We are collectively grieving for Doug Brant, his family, friends, colleagues and patients. This senseless tragedy demonstrates why healthcare companies must do more to listen to, protect and support nurses and health care workers. We can’t allow caregivers to continue to suffer from unchecked workplace violence,” said Oregon Nurses Association (ONA) President Tamie Cline, RN. “As nurses, we dedicate our lives to caring for the sick and creating a safe environment for them to rest and heal. We deserve to work in a safe environment too. Healthcare companies must do more to protect the people who care for us when we need it most.”

For our Kaiser members, our colleagues in the ILWU, who provide security for our facilities, are part of the Alliance of Health Care Unions and are the frontlines of keeping workers and patients safe. You can reach security during your shift by calling “31-4444” or “24-4444,” as instructed by their President, Greg Chavez.

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