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Epidemic Of Violence In Hospitals Facing Nurses

Nurse Nancy Austin
Nurse Nancy Austin was attacked by a patient who hit her with a chair multiple times at the Riverview Psychiatric Center in Maine.

Bob Aller   September 20, 2019

Why is there a need for workplace violence prevention programs for nurses?

“They are routinely yelled at, spat at, pummeled, kicked, scratched and even stabbed by the people they are trying to save. In some states, nurses are assaulted more than police,” wrote columnist Petula Dvorak in the Washington Post.

According to OHSA, violence against health care workers accounted for nearly as many injuries as in all other industries combined.

Brookdale Hospital Medical Center
Brookdale Hospital Medical Center

In 2014, OSHA fined Brookdale University Hospital and Medical Center, a 790-bed hospital in New York, $78,000. 40 acts of violence from patients and visitors had occurred without corrective actions. One of the worst incidents at Brookdale left a nurse with severe brain injuries.

National news stories have reported nurses being stabbed, taken hostage, pushed down stairs, sexually assaulted at gunpoint, and even murdered.

Nurse Practioner Carlie Beaudin Murdered In Wisconsin Hospital Parking Structure

In January 2019, Carlie Beaudin, 33, a nurse practitioner at Froedtert Hospital in Wisconsin was found under a vehicle, bludgeoned and frozen to the icy pavement of a parking structure. (Froedtert is a 550-bed teaching hospital for the Medical College of Wisconsin.)  The attack was captured on parking structure cameras. Yet, hospital security staff did not monitor the live feed from multiple cameras.

Carlie Beaudin
Carlie had received The DAISY Award for Extraordinary Nurses from her hospital.


The attacker waited behind a concrete pillar in a parking garage. Just before 1 A.M, a surveillance camera showed the man running up to Nurse Beaudin as she was walking to her car. He knocked her to the ground and beat her at least 40 times on camera. The autopsy indicated that he also strangled her when hidden from the cameras. In the aftermath, while remaining anonymous, nurses from the hospital contacted the Milwaukee media to say that the garages were poorly lit and the hospital did not provide adequate security personnel. The attacker was found not competent to stand trial and was committed for psychiatric treatment.

Violent incidents occur more frequently in ERs and behavioral health settings. In a study published in the Journal of Emergency Nursing, over 75% of nurses reported they were verbally abused or physically attacked while on the job in the past year.

ER Nurse Elise Wilson Stabbed 11 TImes

Massachusetts nurse stabbed

In 2017, ER nurse Elise Wilson was working in the ER at Harrington Hospital in Southbridge, Massachusetts. During a routine assessment, she was stabbed by a patient 11 times in her neck and arms. In critical condition, Nurse Wilson was helicoptered to UMass Medical Center. She was placed on a ventilator and feeding tube. Elise spent two weeks in an ICU and more time in a rehab center. Fortunately, she recovered. A metal detector would have alerted staff about the knife at entry into the ER. Afterward, the hospital installed a metal detector and initiated various safety strategies.  (Read details of the incident here.)

Only 7 States Have Workplace Violence Prevention Programs

Only seven states (California, Connecticut, Illinois, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, and Washington) have legislation requiring hospitals to provide workplace violence prevention programs.

43 States Don’t Have Workplace Violence Prevention Legislation

“An epidemic of healthcare violence is putting patients and providers at risk every day,” said Karen Coughlin, RN, vice president of the Massachusetts Nurses Association. (Note: The Massachusetts Health and Hospital Association has repeatedly opposed a bill for hospital safety supported by the Massachusetts Nurses Association. In 2019, the Hospital Association introduced its own bill that attempts to water down the Massachusetts Nurses Association bill. For example, if a nurse takes time off due to a violent act, there is no pay.

American Hospital Association Is Unwilling To Support A Violence Prevention Bill In Congress That Is Supported by Major Nurses Organizations

U.S. Congressman Joe Courtney  (CT) has brought forward a bill to require all states to provide workplace violence prevention programs for health care and social service workers. The bill is now out of committee and pending for a House vote. The bill is supported by the American Nurses Association, the American Psychiatric Nurses Association, and the Emergency Nurses Association. Yet, the American Hospital Association has not joined the long list of supporters of this bill (H.R. 1309).

Nevertheless, individual hospitals are making efforts to improve workplace safety.

Many Hospitals Provide Self-Defense Training

Fortunately, a number of hospitals offer self-defense programs.

Pinckneyville Community Hospital self-defense class, Pinckneyville, Illinois

Changing Climate For Self-Defense Training of Nurses

Mike Owen, with the firm of  Strategos International, has taught self-protection to organizations such as the International Association of Chiefs of Police and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Mr. Owen, a retired law enforcement professional, offered his comments on the changing climate for protection of nurses:

“When I was speaking to the Dallas Fort Worth Hospital Council, a chief nursing officer asked a  great question. How do we overcome the belief in a lot of hospitals that nurses just need to take it because it’s part of the job? The good news is that it’s finally changing.

Nurses Have The Right To Defend Themselves & File Charges With The Police

“More and more hospitals are supporting employees to call the police and file charges. When a patient is combative and assaults hospital staff, that staff member has every right to physically defend themselves, notify police and file charges. We’re trying to change the paradigm to where hospitals provide self-defense training to their staff members. It lets staff know that the law does allow them to protect themselves and the hospital supports their actions.” 

Nurse Defends Herself Successfully After Attack By A Man Who Tries To Murder Her With A Hammer

Susan KuhnhausenHere is a case example involving an encounter when a nurse was attacked by a man trying to kill her with a hammer. This nurse was well-trained in self-defense and had nearly thirty years of ER nursing experience. An expert analyzes the classic self-defense tactics she used to defend herself. Reacting quickly, this nurse gained the upper hand and demonstrated what is possible under the most dire of circumstances. View story.




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I charge the government with going in and seeing how understaffed and overused these poor security guys are. I feel bad for nursing staff as I know first hand the risk they take and having misused security makes it even worse.

Vicki Peterson

This is absolutely believable. After 40 years I have seen a lot. But what about work place violence within the staff… I suffered horribly with the State Department of Health as a surveyor and suffered horrendous bullying day after day from peers to the point of a breakdown after 22 months… I never once experienced that kind of work culture in over 30+ years working in the Acute care setting/hospitals. Where are my rights? I took my complaint all the way to the General Council. If it had just myself being a target I would have just quit, but I… Read more »

[…] Nurses Have The Right To Defend Themselves & File Charges With The Police. “More and more hospitals are supporting employees to call the police and file charges. When a patient is combative and assaults hospital staff, that staff member has every right to physically defend themselves, notify police and file charges. via […]


A once a year class in self defense with no weekly on going pratice with different sized attackers will not help a person defend themselves. It may give them a false sense of feeling they can defend themselves. Certainly anyone who is attacked has a right to defend themselves in any means they feel necessary however if the hospital gives you inadequite once a year training and you do not follow their scripted defence training they will turn on you and make you the problem.

[…] […]

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