Based in Lynchburg, Virginia, Centra Health is a regional nonprofit health care system serving as the dominant provider of critical medical services in central and southern Virginia. For their work with the AHA Suicide Prevention in the Health Care Workforce Collaborative, the organization chose to focus on addressing job-related stressors.
Recent events led Centra to focus on workplace violence response within their organization. Their work with the collaborative focused on developing a toolkit designed to aid in debriefing sentinel events, which are unexpected occurrences that lead to death or injury or carry the risk of either. The Joint Commission defines workplace violence as “an act or threat occurring at the workplace that can include any of the following: verbal, nonverbal, written, or physical aggression; threatening, intimidating, harassing, or humiliating words or actions; bullying; sabotage; sexual harassment; physical assaults; or other behaviors of concern involving staff, licensed practitioners, patients, or visitors.” Understanding how workplace violence and the mental well-being of the workforce can be connected to each other, Centra decided to focus their interventions on providing staff the tools to help prevent violence from occurring in the first place, as well as providing tools to address and respond to such events when they occur.
One of the interventions Centra has implemented involves training their employees to act when they witness harassment, discrimination, incivility, or lateral violence. It is estimated that a significant percentage of workplace violence incidents go unreported, and for organizations to accurately assess and address the repeated hazards in their facility they must know when events occur. By training staff as bystanders, the hope is for increased peer support and normalizing of reporting. As of fall 2023, 100% of Centra’s staff has completed bystander training.
As part of their work with the collaborative, Centra has developed workplace violence response toolkits. Toolkits for leaders and staff are accessible to view and print 24/7; these infographic posters help guide leaders’ actions and responses following an incident involving a member or members of their staff. The toolkit for employees includes a letter from the facility’s chaplain, EAP (Employee Assistance Program) information and many other helpful resources.
While implementing their latest programs, Centra came to find that their approaches were not always received with open arms. They found health care teams were, at times, resistant to accepting help. Centra has since modified their approach and engaged peer-to-peer responses with much more success. Tiffany Covarrubias-Lyttle, a member of their team, noted “even if it seems difficult to get buy-in or receptiveness at the start, keep going because there are others walking the same path and this work is worth it.”
The system has identified next steps both for team members as well as the system. For team members, the focus is on engaging in personal wellness, reporting incidents and recognizing when colleagues may need support. For the system, leaders are stressing the importance of improved communication and response to teams and normalizing the culture of reporting.