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Healthcare workers experiencing violence inside SC hospital walls

Updated: Jun. 3, 2021 at 5:29 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Healthcare workers have faced new challenges over the past year and a half as they deal with the coronavirus outbreak in the United States. However, before COVID-19, healthcare workers were facing what some have called an epidemic inside healthcare facilities, and it continues today.

“This has been a problem for as long as I’ve been a nurse, and that’s over 30 years,” said Medical University of South Carolina Chief Nursing Officer Patti Hart. Part of her job is to oversee care team members at the hospital and make sure they are safe, but she said nurses and doctors often face unsafe situations.

“They’ve had to endure verbal, and some physical abuse,” Hart said. “It’s amazing to me the challenges that we face day in and day out.”

Live 5 News requested data and reports of violence against healthcare workers from hospitals around the Lowcountry. MUSC is a public healthcare system, so staff are required by law to provide those numbers, but no other hospital sent their numbers.

At MUSC, there have been about 1,000 violent incidents against healthcare workers since 2016, many of those from patients. The numbers are below:

  • 2016: 141 total workplace violence incidents
  • 2017: 174 total workplace violence incidents
  • 2018: 133 total workplace violence incidents
  • 2019: 295 total workplace violence incidents
  • 2020: 153 total workplace violence incidents

While this data is tracked at individual hospitals, there is no way to know if this problem is getting worse around the state because there is no state-wide reporting system.

“It really is done at a local level, which is one of the challenges to really aggregate how deep this problem is,” Hart said.

Lara Hewitt, Vice President of Workforce and Member Engagement at the South Carolina Hospital Association, said we need better data when it comes to these violent incidents.

“It’s a lot of anecdotal data, but we need more concrete data,” Hewitt said. “And then tracking that data. Because if you track that data, then you can develop interventions and figure out how to respond.”

The SCHA worked with some state lawmakers to introduce a bill in 2018 that would give stricter penalties to people who assault healthcare workers, but the bill never passed.

“We are one of only about three states who do not have enhanced penalties already on the books,” Hewitt added.

Because they could not get traction on the bill, the SCHA is thinking in different ways.

“We may look to in the future to look at more of a trespass bill, which is more like creating a safety zone around hospitals so it’s kind of a protected area and if you do cross into that area, making threats or doing anything that would be suspected of condoning violence than that would be punishable,” Hewitt said.

The SCHA launched a Hospitals Safe Zone campaign a few years ago. You can read about resources and get help reporting abuse by clicking: here.

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