A few years ago, a patient of mine was very bitter and angry. In a brief moment that I was alone him, he physically assaulted me by strangling me with my lanyard and kicking my stomach and arms. It took six security guards to restrain him and, after weeks of discomfort, doctors discovered that two major nerves in my arm had been severed. I needed surgery — or I would lose the use of my hand.
I got the physical care I needed, but the emotional trauma haunts me to this day.
Being a nurse requires me to be brave every day in the face of serious illness and the frailty of the human body — but that bravery should not be because I’m scared of getting hurt. Among healthcare workers, incidents of workplace violence is at an all-time high. Workers like me are five to 12 times more likely to experience nonfatal on-the-job violence at than any other worker in the country.
When I started as a nurse nearly 15 years ago, I was aware of the possibility of getting hurt on the job. My colleagues and I were prepared to be extra vigilant when caring for elderly patients (such as those suffering from dementia or coming out of anesthesia). In moments of uncertainty and distress, a patient's fight-or-flight instinct could take over and it was our job to help them understand that they were safe.
Now, I feel that possibility has increased dramatically.
After the incident, my union helped me understand my rights and outlined what management in my workplace could and could not do. I had the support of my colleagues, but I know many workers are scared to come forward. They don’t want to lose their jobs.
My union has challenged administrators to get systems in place that eliminate the risk of workplace violence. That’s why we’re calling on Congress to pass legislation that protects healthcare workers like me and makes facilities accountable for our safety.
Workplace violence is unacceptable everywhere, but especially in a place of care and healing. And I refuse to stay quiet.
Toni Emrich has been a nurse for nearly 15 years. She is an SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania member.