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Utah nursing leader lobbying in D.C. for law to address nurse safety

Jun 15, 2022, 2:27 PM | Updated: 2:29 pm
nurse safety...
Photo credit: The American Nurses Association

SALT LAKE CITY — If you’ve spent any time in a hospital anywhere in the country in the last couple of years, you might have wondered if we are in the middle of a nursing shortage.  And you would be right.

“We have had a nursing shortage for as long as I’ve been a nurse, going on 50 years,” said Liz Close, Executive Director of the Utah Nurses Association. “It has manifested itself in different ways in different states over periods of time, and also worldwide.”

The shortage can be attributed to burnout, Close said, after having worked for the last two and a half years during the COVID-19 pandemic at what she called an extremely fast and serious pace.

But violence against nurses is another factor, which Close said is on the rise. So much so, that she and others have been lobbying for nurse safety in Washington D.C. in the form of the Workplace Violence Prevention Act.

Nurse safety: One-quarter of all nurses have been assaulted

Violence against healthcare workers is not a new occurrence. “[But] Covid seems to have exacerbated it and brought it to the attention of the public,” Close said.

“I call it the hidden epidemic in healthcare because we know that one-fourth of all of the 4.3 million nurses in the United States report having been assaulted in their career at work.”

Close said an assault against a nurse can include anything from being spit on by a patient to being slugged, sexually assaulted, even stabbed.

There are systems already in place in the form of laws and sentencing guidelines that address violence toward healthcare workers. But Close and her colleagues want to do more than address the violence that occurs.

“What we’re trying to do now at the national level – it’s called the Healthcare Workplace Violence Act. … It asks the Department of Labor to insist that OSHA require all institutions where healthcare workers are employed have in place policy and procedure to prevent the violence rather than to punish.”

The bill is headed for the Senate, after having already passed the House with bipartisan support. 

Nurse safety addressed by Workplace Violence Prevention

Close spent time last week with the Utah Nurses Association (UNA) and hundreds of nurses from the national organization of which UNA is a part, the American Nurses Association.

They were on Capitol Hill talking with legislators, trying to drum up support for the Workplace Violence Prevention Act. She asked how they would feel doing their jobs if there was no screening before people entered the Capitol building.

She said she wasn’t arguing for metal detectors at every entrance. But she feels strongly that policies to protect nurses must be in place.

“We know from a report from the Utah Hospital Association that there were 22,000 cases of violence against healthcare workers in the period between 2018 and 2021,” Close explained. “It’s an epidemic, but we just don’t know about it.”

“It is not nurses that people are singling out,” Close explained. “It is that nurses are there 24/7 at the bedside. We’re going to get any amount of anger. Violent behavior is going to affect us more than other workers in the hospital because we’re more available.”

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