News & Events

Workplace violence prevention in healthcare: MNA awareness and education

From the Massachusetts Nurse Newsletter
November/December 2008 Edition

By Evelyn Bain, M Ed, RN, COHN-S
Associate Director/Coordinator, Health & Safety

The MNA was taking a stand against workplace violence in healthcare settings long before the turn of the 21st century. MNA members reported being assaulted at work and their attempts to open a dialogue with their employers to initiate violence prevention activities were largely ignored.

In 1999, the MNA Cabinet on Labor Relations and Board of Directors created a task force to draw attention to workplace violence and workplace violence prevention. A very dedicated group of nurses came together to begin the dialogue, support activism and further the concept that violence at work in health care settings is unacceptable. The nurses were survivors, witnesses or simply concerned about violent attacks at work.

The MNA learned that in many of these acts the violence was targeted against specific nurses and others and then carried out by patients/perpetrators who waited until only a few staff members were available or the nurse was alone in the work area before carrying out their well planned crimes. Other assaults resulted from drug and alcohol use, actions considered crimes if they happened elsewhere. Visitors and family members were involved in many of these reported crimes.

The MNA believes the same standard of accountability for criminal behavior should apply in health care. This information was brought to judges and others who believed that perpetrators of violence in health care were only helpless victims of illness who could not be held accountable.

The slogan became: In Healthcare or Anywhere: Violence is NOT part of the job.

An educational session in 2001 included the Norfolk County District Attorney, William R. Keating, and a nurse, now a lieutenant in the Massachusetts State Police. Information from this session empowered nurses to involve the police with a patient who had long been abusive and violent to themselves and their co-workers. The patient was soon transferred to a prison hospital unit, an action the nurses had previously requested of their employer. In 2006, Keating, convened a community group that included hospitals, hospice and home care agencies, local police and the MNA. A booklet, Protecting Our Caregivers from Workplace Violence was developed that addresses the criminal aspect of workplace violence.

MNA staff and members have presented educational sessions, and participated in labor negotiations to promote violence prevention, and provided support for injured nurses, education for insurance companies and other unions, nursing schools and professional organizations. These activities have been reported in local and national media, including television, radio, print and webcast.

The Task Force and Congress members developed many documents including: Prevention and Intervention: Being Assaulted is Not Part of the Job No Matter Where You Work, the MNA Position Statement on Workplace Violence, Model Labor Contract Language Related to Workplace Violence and Violence Prevention, 10 Steps a Nurse Should Take if Assaulted at Work and How to Recognize and Respond to Bullying at Work/ How Bullies Pick their Targets. Labor union representatives and local union committee members as well as victims of violence and their legal representatives use these documents.

In 2006, the MNA began on-line continuing nursing education programs and the initial offering was workplace violence. The program is available on the MNA website. The MNA is involved with two legislative proposals to protect healthcare workers from violence at work. One proposal requires that all healthcare employers in Massachusetts develop Workplace Violence Prevention Programs and the second proposal increases the penalties for perpetrators who assault any healthcare worker and require that criminal charges will be filed by the police rather than the victim.

The MNA Task Force on Workplace Violence and Abuse Prevention is currently in its’ ninth year of activity, advocacy and assistance to victims of violence. Until, it becomes the law of the land that perpetrators are held accountable, that all workers are trained to recognize the potential for violence in the situations where they are working and employers improve working conditions to include assessment and prevention of violence, the Task Force will continue to advocate on behalf of nurses and their colleagues at work in healthcare settings.

All documents, surveys, survey results and on-line continuing nursing education are available on the MNA website at massnurses. org. Their use and reprint is encouraged with acknowledgement of the MNA. There is no charge to anyone who utilizes any of the on-line continuing nursing education programs. If you are interested in participating in the Workplace Violence and Abuse Prevention Task Force or the Congress on Health and Safety, contact information aptpears elsewhere on this page. Members and others are always invited to attend meetings. Victims of violence at work can call as well.