Jo Samrow has spent 10 years as a registered nurse in southern Maryland and knows what it means to work with her back to the wall—literally. Not too long ago, she was taking care of a disoriented patient who suddenly jumped up and shoved Jo against a wall. The blow was hard enough to create a welt in the back of Jo’s head and cause her to worry whether she had aggravated a preexisting neck injury.
While many would have used an assault like that as a reason to look for a new profession, Jo and the thousands of health care workers in Maryland continue to dedicate themselves to caregiving, even at the risk of bodily harm. Like many other nurses, Jo does not feel safe at work. And with good reason: According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, “a worker in health care and social assistance is nearly 5 times more likely to be the victim of a nonfatal assault or violent act by person than the average worker in all industries combined.”This makes working in health care one of the most dangerous occupations in the nation.
Still, Jo and her coworkers understand that anytime a person must enter a health care facility there will be high emotions and inordinate stress. And when patients are unruly, Jo and her coworkers watch each other’s backs and quickly attempt to diffuse situations when they arise. The problem is that there are too many instances when this is not enough.
Jo is well trained in proper communication techniques that can quell an agitated person, however, violence incidents still occur, and when they do, health care workers are left vulnerable. “We shouldn’t have to put up with this,” Jo says, “Judo and Karate were not one of the classes I took in nursing school.”
Luckily, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the solution to workplace violence in health care institutions does not involve training all healthcare workers in the martial arts. As other states around the country are learning, it actually involves solutions that are easy to implement and may have life savings consequences: Frequent staff trainings on workplace violence; adequate staffing levels that ensure everyone has backup; facility-wide workplace violence committees that meet regularly; and, well lit parking areas.
Health care workers should not have to endure violence when there are so many deterrents available. 1199 SEIU will be pushing our state officials to stop workplace violence in healthcare institutions during legislative session next year so that Jo never has to choose between the job she loves and her own wellbeing.
Despite the dangers, Jo loves her job. After ten years on the job, Jo continues to give her all to the sick that come through her hospital’s doors. She does not deserve to receive lumps and scars for this service.