CoxHealth emergency room nurses speak out about verbal, physical assault they face

Published: Aug. 18, 2021 at 7:31 PM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - CoxHealth President and CEO Steve Edwards tweeted that more nurses are being attacked on the job.

Edwards says the hope is to make health care safer for doctors and nurses. Edwards says that those who work in healthcare are four times more likely to face workplace violence than in other jobs. He says in the past year, 82% of emergency room nurses were victims of physical assault and 100% of them were verbally assaulted while at work.

CoxHealth emergency room nurse Natalie Higgins says nurses are verbally assaulted daily on the job.

“It’s terrifying,” Higgins says. “It’s like you want to go home to your family and you think as a nurse you don’t have to worry about that. But we do have to worry about that every day we come in.”

The past year, Higgins says it’s only gotten worse and that long ER wait times has played a role in that.

Higgins says sometimes the violence turns physical.

“The first time I got verbally attacked by a patient it was like oh my gosh like I expected it but not to the extent we see it every day,” Higgins says. “The first physical like the first time someone lunges at you, even still today, when they lunge at you it’s terrifying.”

Edwards says that’s why Cox installed panic buttons on their ID badges. Those panic buttons notify security and the entire emergency room where that nurse is and that they need help.

Cox ER nurse Becky Fleming says they go through de-escalation and safety training every year.

“Try to stay calm,” Fleming says. “For them to stay calm use the right verbiage and things like that. Place yourself as safe as you can in the room. Always knowing where your back is, what’s behind you, that kind of thing.”

Edwards says 80% of the assaults are coming from patients.

“The people we take care of aren’t well,” Edwards says. “You can imagine that people suffering from addictions or suffering from mental health issues or even other elements, may temporarily become violent.”

Edwards says the hospital will prosecute anyone who assaults the staff.

“Our organization is inclined to prosecute every one of them,” Edwards says. “Historically a nurse would have to put her name or his name on that prosecution and they felt vulnerable to do that.”

New Missouri law allows nurses who press charges to remain anonymous.

“You don’t feel like someone is going to be hunting you down to find out where you live,” Fleming says.

The hospital has also put two trained dogs into service, one at Cox North and one at Cox South. Those dogs are used to de-escalate situations.

“If need to they can attack,” Edwards says. “We haven’t had to do that because I think most people understand the threat of a dog.”

Higgins says if a patient with a history of violence comes in, their chart is immediately flagged.

“Instead of just one person going in, we’ll take two staff in just in case so we feel more comfortable,” Higgins says.

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