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4 Steps Prevent a Spike in Post-COVID Workplace Violence

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4 Steps Prevent a Spike in Post-COVID Workplace Violence

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COVID Workplace Violence

Even before the recent pandemic, healthcare workers were four times more likely to be the victims of workplace violence than any other industry. Then, you add the fear, anger and stress of the recent COVID-19 outbreak, and the potential risk rises even further.

Everyone is a little on edge (healthcare workers and patients alike). Being cooped up for weeks on end, lost jobs, financial worries, and children home from school. Any of these things could send patients and/or employees over the edge.

You don’t want to think that you could be the victim of workplace violence, or that someone you know would hurt you. However, it is a reality, and unfortunately there are plenty of cases as proof. So, as restrictions are lifted, what can you do to lessen the risk to you, your staff, patients and practice in the weeks to come?

Preparation is key.

Here are some ways you can reduce stress and protect your practice.

Ease Staff’s Fears

Understand the root causes of anger so you can better understand it. “Anger is the result of fear,” notes Dr. Peggy Piper, LCPC, a psychotherapist in Bradley, IL.

Address staff and patient fears and try to ease them. “In most cases, people are looking for someone to blame, but in the case of this pandemic, there is no one to blame,” Piper explains. Not having anyone to blame can intensify a patient’s or employee’s anger, as he or she feels powerless.

Classify How Dangerous the Anger Is

Look at the way someone verbalizes their stress and frustration. To understand how risky this behavior can be, define the type of anger by using the two options below:

  • Non-Directed Anger: The anger is not focused on a specific person or group of people. For instance, “something” is upsetting the patient, but he is not angry at you. Non-directed anger does not present a threat. Imagine this being a “good person having a bad day.” We have all been there!
  • Directed Anger: Directed anger, on the other hand, means the anger IS focused on a specific person or group of people. As you interact with the person, he may often point a finger at the person he is directing their anger at. The person may make demands for actions and associated threats of consequences if those demands are not met. When anger becomes directed, trouble is brewing!

Some red flags to alert you to Direct Anger:

  • Focused anger at a specific person, or group
  • Verbal threats
  • Physical threats
  • Loss of assets (repossessions, foreclosures, etc.)
  • Citing “conspiracy theories”
  • Suicidal ideologies

Communicate Expectations Early

The earlier you begin communicating with your patients and employees in advance of ramping up, the better off you will be, Piper says. Consider employing these tools to help head off anger before it turns into something catastrophic:

  • Communication Tools: Emails, newsletters, and letters are all effective ways to start communicating your plans This is important for patients, current employees and employees you may have had to furlough during the pandemic. Communication gives the people knowledge and understanding of the process being used. If you don’t provide people with information, they will make up their own reality. This can breed unrealistic expectations, frustration, resentment and anger.
  • Timelines: Setting clear expectations for when specific steps will happen will allow both patients and employees to understand what your phased approach will look like and how it will affect them. Obviously, you should send separate communications to your patients and employees with information related to their situation. It is very important that you STRESS that timelines are only projections and are not cast in stone. Each time you send a communication or update you should reiterate this point to ensure patient and employee expectations are kept realistic.
  • Counseling Program:
    • For Patients: Get in touch with local, qualified counselors to see if they are available for patient appointments. You could even provide a list of ALL counselors in your immediate area in one of the communications you send out. Again, this shows you are going above and beyond for your patients. NOTE: It’s important that you clearly state in the patient communication that you are not recommending any specific practitioner. You are providing the contact information of local providers merely to save patients some time.
    • For Employees: Consider engaging a qualified Employee Assistance Program (EAP) counselor or arrange for a qualified mental health professional to be available to them. This will reiterate to your employees that you care for their wellbeing and provide them with an outlet to hopefully head off any dangerous behavior.
  • Q&A session: Implement an FAQ section of your website for your patients. For employees, create an FAQ related to their issues and send it around, or post it in your internal directory. Also, for both patients and employees, create a mechanism for them to submit questions they may have that are not answered in the FAQ. It is essential that they feel heard. NOTE: If you do implement a Q&A mechanism for patients and employees be sure to have some sort of follow up process in place. Nothing ticks people off faster than not being responded to, especially when you’ve solicited their questions.

Hire Temporary Security

If you are a small, stand-alone practice with little or no on-site security, you may want to consider hiring a temporary security guard service. Most security agencies provide “observe and report” services, meaning they create a deterrence through visibility, and when they observe anything that appears out of the ordinary or anyone acting in an unreasonable or threatening manner, they immediately report it to the police.

One word of caution…most guard agency contracts are “hands off,” meaning that if there is an incident, they will not become involved in a protective or defensive manner. If you want their role to be expanded to include a “hands-on” approach, you will have to negotiate that as part of the written agreement with the guard agency.

The items above are just a couple of the things you can do to reduce your chances of being a victim of workplace violence. There are also additional markers of violence you should be aware of to help you head off an attack. For more proven strategies you can implement to keep yourself, your staff, patients and practice safe, check out this 90-minute online training sessionRecognizing and Defusing Aggressive Behavior” from healthcare safety, security, and risk management expert, Steve Wilder, BA, CHSP, STS.


Additional Workplace Violence Resources From Steve Wilder

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Recognizing and Defusing Aggressive Behavior (Before it Becomes Violent) Natural Disaster Recovery: Protect Your Practice and Patients Protect Patients & Staff From COVID-19 Stress-Induced Violence
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Meet Your Writer

Steven S. Wilder
BA, CHSP, STS

President, Sorensen, Wilder & Associates

Steve has spent the past 32 years in healthcare safety, security, and risk management. He has provided consultation services to hundreds of clients, including hospitals, long-term care facilities, homecare agencies, clinics, physician practices, and pre-hospital/EMS services, as well as trained thousands of workers in workplace safety and security. An experienced trial expert, Steve regularly consults for law firms and insurance companies on matters of safety, security, and risk management. He has become a nationally recognized subject matter expert in active shooter preparedness and response, and works with over 300 clients in 44 states. Steve has previously been a Risk Manager/Safety & Security Director for a hospital, Corporate Risk / Safety Officer for a long-term care facilities, and Corporate Director of Safety/Security for a major healthcare system with nine hospitals and fifteen long term care facilities. In addition to his regular contributions to healthcare magazines, Wilder co-authored the book The Essentials of Aggression Management in Healthcare: From Talkdown to Takedown. Steve proudly served on the Illinois School Security and Standards Task Force as the only professional security consultant on that task force, appointed by the Governor of the State of Illinois.