SPRINGFIELD, Mass – The registered nurses of Mercy Medical Center and Providence Behavioral Health Hospital, represented by the Massachusetts Nurses Association, have partnered with their employer to create a ground-breaking program that empowers staff members to respond to and prevent employee domestic violence.
“As nurses, we have an important role to play ensuring the health and safety of not only our patients but also our colleagues, our peers, friends and loved ones,” said Cathy Penniman, RN, BSN, at Mercy Medical Center. “This program gives staff members at Mercy and Providence the ability to help each other by effectively guiding victims of domestic abuse to a strong support system. Our program is a model for health care employers that are seeking to protect and empower their workforce.”
Domestic violence is a widespread problem nationally and locally. On average, nearly 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner in the United States, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. During one year, this equates to more than 10 million women and men. Nearly one in three Massachusetts women has experienced rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner.
“Victims of abuse often feel ashamed and frightened, but talking about their experiences is an important step in moving toward safety, and ultimately, toward a better life,” said Jess Calcidise, RN, BSN, Vice President of Patient Care Services and Chief Nursing Officer, Mercy Medical Center. “It is vitally important that our colleagues have information about the resources available to help themselves, co-workers, family members and friends deal with a domestic violence situation.”
A joint Domestic Violence Task Force was formed following the last round of MNA contract negotiations at both hospitals. The task force includes MNA nurses and hospital administrators. It developed safety policies and materials for all employees at Mercy and Providence who are affected by domestic violence. Resources include outside assistance such as government agencies and nonprofits; reserved parking spaces; escorts to vehicles; increased security measures and signage; spiritual care; leave of absence provisions; assistance on work time; and education materials for employees on how to support and respond appropriately to colleagues affected by domestic violence.
The task force also created a slogan that was rolled out at hospital meetings earlier this year attended by more than 220 employees. The slogan “SHARE, because secrets don’t keep us safe” includes the action steps:
Share right now
Hand off to someone who can help
Establish a Safety Plan
“The burden of this information becomes lighter when it’s shared, and this is the first step toward safety for the victim,” said Cady Spencer, RN on the detox unit at Providence Hospital and a member of the task force.
Northwestern District Attorney David Sullivan, whose office has been instrumental in spreading awareness of domestic violence throughout Hampshire and Franklin counties, congratulated the MNA nurses and the hospitals on their partnership.
“Domestic violence is so prevalent in our society that it affects everyone in some way, from the victim of abuse to the employer who seeks to protect their workers from violence,” Sullivan said. “It is our moral imperative to stop domestic violence and it is also sound workplace policy. One important way to prevent abuse is fostering partnerships between employees and employers like this model program at Mercy Medical Center and Providence Behavioral Health Hospital.”
Andrea Fox, RN, an Associate Director in the MNA’s Division of Labor Action, credited DA Sullivan’s office with helping develop the idea for the program following her participation in a day-long program run by Sullivan’s Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Unit called, "Domestic Violence Affects All of Us: What employers can do to protect your business and your employees." In the fall of 2014, Fox and the MNA nurses at Mercy and Providence raised the issue of domestic violence during contract negotiations. The result was an agreement to form the joint task force, which developed the domestic violence resources.
“It is critically important that we learn how to help encourage and empower any staff affected by the very serious public health problem of domestic violence,” Fox said. “The secretive nature of this crime allows it to continue. Through communication with peers who are ready to provide assistance, victims of domestic violence receive comfort and strength.”
Founded in 1903, the Massachusetts Nurses Association is the largest union of registered nurses in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Its 23,000 members advance the nursing profession by fostering high standards of nursing practice, promoting the economic and general welfare of nurses in the workplace, projecting a positive and realistic view of nursing, and by lobbying the Legislature and regulatory agencies on health care issues affecting nurses and the public.