More than three years into the COVID-19 pandemic, healthcare workers have remained at the center of multiple conversations. The city of New York used to bang pots and pans and applaud every day to celebrate and thank healthcare workers during the first several months of the pandemic. Both countries around the world and states within the U.S. have attempted — some successfully — to increase the pay of healthcare workers, especially nurses.

These efforts, unfortunately, do not solve the problem of workplace violence. Healthcare workers face potential violence from multiple fronts: peers, patients and visitors. Security leaders have to create dedicated plans to ensure workers remain safe while on the job. Hospitals across the U.S. have installed safety measures including wearable panic buttons and enhanced weapons detection on top of hiring additional security personnel. In addition, healthcare facilities have worked to increase employee training.

In 2021, the Workplace Violence Prevention for Health Care and Social Service Workers Act was introduced to the House of Representatives. The act passed through the House and moved into the Senate in 2022. The act builds on current Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) regulations for healthcare safety. It requires healthcare organizations to create a detailed, written workplace violence prevention plan for all employees. The plan must list specifications for different departments and risk factors depending on the work environment. This means the plan will apply to a variety of healthcare settings, including:

  • Hospitals
  • Clinics
  • Mental health facilities
  • Assisted living facilities
  • Community care centers
  • Memory care facilities
  • Substance abuse treatment centers
  • Emergency centers
  • Home-based medical treatment

The act received support from several unions representing workers in these sectors, including National Nurses United (NNU), American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP), Emergency Nurses Association (ENA), American Federation of Teachers (AFT), American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), American Federation of Government Employees, International Association of Fire Fighters, United Steelworkers (USW), Public Citizen and the American Nurses Association.

More recently, the Ventura County Health System in California voted to ratify a five-year contract to improve both workplace safety and staff retention. The plan involves funding for personal protective equipment and pension benefits. Additionally, the contract includes plans to create comprehensive language to build a safer work environment for nurses and healthcare professionals, including improved language to enhance workplace violence protection, discrimination and sexual harassment prevention. There will also be new diversity, equity and inclusion language, including a joint statement with CNA and Ventura County declaring racism a public health crisis.

Working to protect healthcare workers from all forms of harassment and violence remains a priority for security leaders across the country.