Gun violence has been on the rise in hospitals and medical centers across the United States, posing significant challenges for the healthcare industry. The recent shooting at Legacy Good Samaritan Medical Center in Portland, Oregon, where a security guard was killed and others were injured, is just one example of this disturbing trend.
According to Michael D’Angelo, a security consultant focusing on healthcare and workplace violence, the healthcare profession is statistically four to five times more dangerous than any other profession when it comes to actual violence. Incidents of gun violence in hospitals have resulted in deaths and injuries, with healthcare workers accounting for the majority of nonfatal workplace violence injuries in 2018.
The shooting in Oregon was preceded by warnings to hospital employees about the visitor causing trouble in the maternity ward. Unfortunately, the visitor was able to open fire despite the hospital’s security measures, including the presence of security guards. The hospital has since announced plans to enhance security measures such as installing additional metal detectors, implementing bag searches, and providing security officers with stun guns.
However, addressing the issue of violence in healthcare facilities goes beyond increased security measures. Understaffing, high costs, long wait times, and limited treatment options contribute to patient and family frustrations, which can escalate into violent incidents. Furthermore, the focus on patient satisfaction surveys, tied to financial reimbursement rates, sometimes leads administrators to prioritize patient satisfaction over staff safety.
While some hospitals have armed security officers or even their own police forces, critics argue that this approach exacerbates existing healthcare and policing inequities, particularly for Black individuals. Moreover, security teams alone cannot address the root causes of violence, which are often deeply rooted within the healthcare system itself.
Deborah Burger, the president of National Nurses United, emphasizes that understaffing in hospitals and the resulting lack of time for nurses to adequately assess patients contribute to the increase in workplace violence. Nurses are often targeted as the face of the healthcare system, receiving aggression from frustrated patients and their families.
Efforts to improve safety in healthcare facilities must not only involve security measures but also address the underlying issues in the healthcare system. By providing adequate staffing, support, and resources, healthcare organizations can create a safer environment for both patients and healthcare workers.