‘Epidemic of violence’: Nurses unions demand action after Methodist Dallas killings

Fort Worth Star – Telegram

‘Epidemic of violence’: Nurses unions demand action after Methodist Dallas killings

Dalia Faheid – October 24, 2022

Alex Slitz/aslitz@herald-leader.com

shooter killed two hospital employees at Methodist Dallas Medical Center on Saturday morning.

Jacqueline Ama Pokuaa, 45, was one of the two women shot to death around 11 a.m. at the Dallas hospital by a man on parole who received permission to be there for the delivery of his child. The second was nurse Katie Flowers. The two women were shot near the hospital’s maternity ward.

“The Methodist Health System Family is heartbroken at the loss of two of our beloved team members,” Methodist Hospital executives said in a statement. “Our entire organization is grieving this unimaginable tragedy. During this devastating time, we want to ensure our patients and employees that Methodist Dallas Medical Center is safe, and there is no ongoing threat. Our prayers are with our lost co-workers and their families, as well as our entire Methodist family. We appreciate the community’s support during this difficult time.”

In the aftermath, as loved ones and community members mourn the losses, nurses unions are demanding better protection for health care workers.

“It is devastating to learn about the loss of our fellow nurses’ lives in Dallas, Texas,” said R.N. Jean Ross, president of National Nurses United, the country’s largest union and professional association of registered nurses with almost 225,000 members nationwide. “Our hearts go out to the families and colleagues of the nurses who died. No one should lose their life because they went to work.”

Texas Nurses Association CEO Serena Bumpus says the state’s nursing community is overcome with “sadness, disbelief and anger.”

“We mourn for the victim’s families, but also for the staff at Dallas Methodist,” Bumpus told the Star-Telegram. “The loss of their co-workers in this senseless tragedy is difficult to understand. There were still patients who had to be cared for, babies to be delivered etc. So, many went right back work. It’s difficult to process a loss when you don’t have an opportunity to stop and reflect.”

Health care workers face increased threats

Concern about violence against health care workers has been renewed with recent incidents like the one in Dallas. Over the summer, a shooting at a Tulsa medical facility on June 1 left four people dead.

“There is an epidemic of violence against nurses and other health care workers,” Ross told the Star-Telegram.

Health care and social service workers are five times as likely to be injured from violence in their workplace than other workers, TIME magazine reported. Over the last decade, the number of such injuries has risen dramatically —from 6.4 incidents per 10,000 workers annually in 2011 to 10.3 per 10,000 in 2020.

It’s become even worse during the COVID-19 pandemic, health care workers say. In September, nearly a third of respondents to a National Nurses United survey said they’d experienced an increase in workplace violence.

“It was only a matter of time before we experienced a tragedy like this,” Bumpus says. “Nurses deal with violence from patients and their families regularly.”

Nurses are often the targets of physical assault. The violence-related injury rate for registered nurses is more than three times higher than for workers overall, according to NNU. A September Press Ganey study found that an average of two nurses were assaulted every hour at work. Nurses often experience workplace violence from patients and family members/visitors due to several reasons — illness, medications, high-trauma situations, altered states caused by memory loss, dementia, mental illness, and delays in needed care. Because there’s a nursing shortage, nurses often have no choice but to go back to work right away.

These high rates of workplace violence contribute significantly to high rates of stress, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, burnout, moral distress, and turnover among nurses.

Underreporting of workplace violence incidents is a significant issue, according to NNU, so the actual statistics may be even higher. Underreporting can be due to pressure from employers not to report, fear of retaliation or to lack of employer response when reports have been made.

“Nurses need a safe place to work so that patients have a safe place to heal. When nurses aren’t safe, patients aren’t safe,” Ross said. “Health care workplace violence can impact everyone in the vicinity—including patients and their families. Everyone is a patient at some time in their lives, so we need to make sure our hospitals are safe.”

A safer work environment

It’s the hospital’s responsibility to provide a safe work environment, NNU says.

“Management needs to protect the spaces where people come to be healed by stopping physical violence and threats from ever occurring in the first place,” Ross said. “Because many hospitals fail to implement workplace violence prevention plans, we need a national, enforceable standard to hold health care employers accountable to keeping nurses, other health care workers, and our patients safe from violence in the workplace.”

The unions want the U.S. Senate to pass the Workplace Violence for Health Care and Social Service Workers Act (HR 1195/S 4182). The bill passed the House last year and was introduced in the Senate this year. It would create national minimum requirements for health care employers to implement research-proven measures to prevent workplace violence, including safe staffing, and improve reporting and tracking.

Hospitals need to ensure that units are staffed appropriately, NNU says. Safe staffing gives more time to recognize and deescalate potentially violent behavior, and ensures that patients get the care they need when they need it.

“Health care employers could prevent workplace violence, through unit-specific prevention plans, environmental and administrative controls like safer staffing levels, hands-on training, and reporting and tracking systems, but many employers fail to put necessary measures in place,” Ross said.

Author: John Hanno

Born and raised in Chicago, Illinois. Bogan High School. Worked in Alaska after the earthquake. Joined U.S. Army at 17. Sergeant, B Battery, 3rd Battalion, 84th Artillery, 7th Army. Member of 12 different unions, including 4 different locals of the I.B.E.W. Worked for fortune 50, 100 and 200 companies as an industrial electrician, electrical/electronic technician.