Workplace violence in hospitals and health care settings is a complex issue that involves many stakeholders and touches many parts of the greater health care system. It can be overwhelming, blurring the lines between security, staff wellness and the public.

Violence was already a concern facing health care organization leaders prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, the ongoing health crisis has elevated tensions due to masking enforcement, visitor restrictions, the recent requirement that staff within all Medicare and Medicaid-certified facilities be vaccinated against COVIID-19, and staff burnout. Anecdotal reports of altercations in hospitals have been shared across a variety of platforms and media. Such stories underscore the need to strengthen workplace safety procedures, particularly in health care settings.

As president and CEO of Renown Health, as well as a member of the AHA’s Hospitals Against Violence member advisory group, I believe we have found a way to support hospitals in elevating and enhancing this work. Over the last year, we have collaborated with the International Association for Healthcare Security and Safety to create a guide for hospital and health system leaders. The guide focuses on employee well-being, promotes data-driven approaches, embeds safety and security into existing workflows and electronic medical records, and helps facilities develop relationships to improve security. In addition, it includes a framework for building safer workplaces, actionable steps for mitigating violence in hospitals and health care settings, and links to resources including webinars and podcasts.

Health care is an industry like no other, and its most precious resource is its employees. We have known this, and it has become even more evident during the COVID-19 pandemic. As leaders, we have an obligation to ensure that our workers are safe while they go about their work. This starts with leadership, communication and unequivocal support for their work. I believe the conversation must go even further, which is why at Renown Health we have instituted a zero tolerance policy on workplace violence. This policy has been instituted to let our employees know that we have their back in preventing workforce violence and we will address it assertively if the environment becomes unsafe. Eight years ago, we experienced the tragedy of an on campus shooting where a physician was killed and two others were critically injured. In the aftermath, we vowed that we would do everything we could so that this type of violence would never happen in our “home” and affect our “family” like that again. For us, workplace violence is a personal issue.

In our recent webinar, we shared context from a leadership perspective, outlined the issues related to violence in the health care setting and learned about some of the revised Joint Commission standards being implemented to address this important topic. I want to applaud the Joint Commission for delving into this sensitive area and helping to assure that we have a programmatic and proactive approach to averting violence in health care settings that includes program management, data collection and worker engagement through education. These are important efforts to assure that we can continue to maintain places of health and healing — not violence.

To learn more about the current state of workplace violence in hospitals, watch the recording of this AHA webinar. In addition, learn from The Joint Commission about their new workplace violence standards going into effect in January 2022. It is our hope that these resources will serve as a compass for leaders as they navigate making their workplaces safer for health care workers and their patients.

Tony Slonim, M.D., DrPH, FACHE is President and CEO of Renown Health in Reno, Nev.

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