Jerusalem Post Editorial: Protect our nurses

About 25% of the recorded incidents involved physical violence, mostly in hospital emergency rooms.

Nurse writing prescriptions (illustrative). (photo credit: INGIMAGE)
Nurse writing prescriptions (illustrative).
(photo credit: INGIMAGE)
Protect our nurses The murder Tuesday of health clinic nurse Tova Karero by a disturbed patient who set her alight shocked the nation, which responded with numerous expressions of remorse that included several short work stoppages in outrage at her tragic death. To our shame, this first murder of a nurse at work followed so many assaults on health personnel that such violence has become routine – and routinely ignored by our society.
There is a difference in kind between Karero’s murder and the countless attacks on health workers, particularly emergency room personnel, which plague our health system. The latter occur so regularly that they are noticed with about as much concern as traffic accidents.
The emotional tension in an emergency room surely has a counterpart on the country’s roads, but our culture should not tolerate any outburst of physical violence whether on the part of frustrated motorists or patients.
For years, the medical institutions and the Israel Medical Association have refrained almost completely from protesting an ever-increasing amount of such violence despite there being – from 2014 to 2016 – some 3,000 instances of recorded verbal or physical violence in hospitals and clinics.
They did not venture an estimate of how many more instances went unrecorded because the victims had no faith that the system would deal with them.
About 25% of the recorded incidents involved physical violence, mostly in hospital emergency rooms.
The Family Physicians Association expressed its shock at the first murder of a nurse by noting that “a day doesn’t pass without some violence. It is routine.
The government and law-enforcement authorities must end their apathy and take action so no more murders occur.”
Many doctors and nurses avoid complaining of abuse because they think nothing will come of it; fewer than half of the victims complain, according to former Health Ministry director-general Prof. Ronni Gamzu.
Former Kadima MK Rachel Adatto, a gynecologist by training, said her previous experience as deputy director of Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek Medical Center taught her that posting a policeman at the entrance deterred violence, but improved security is not enough; stricter legislation is needed.
Israel is not alone in facing this dilemma – the United States has called violence against healthcare workers an epidemic that plagues hospitals. In a 2014 survey, nearly 80% of nurses reported being attacked on the job within the previous year, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.
For some reason the US and Israel share an attitude of indifference toward this particular type of violence.
“There is a top-to-bottom cultural assumption that violence is part of the job” for emergency room nurses and healthcare workers, said Lisa Wolf, a registered nurse and research director for the US Emergency Nurses Association. “It goes from the bedside up to the judicial system.”
The violent behavior of extremely stressed-out people may spread from those actually experiencing a mental crisis to those who feel themselves entitled to take out their frustration by attacking a nurse.
In the 2014 survey, almost 50% of attacks were by patients or family members who were drunk or on drugs. Studies suggest that more than half of physical assaults on nurses and up to 80% of verbal abuse go unreported.
A 2011 US Emergency Nurses Association study on workplace violence in America points to one way to reduce the violence. It found that hospitals with mandatory reporting policies experience half the rate of physical violence of hospitals without them.
This would be a step in the right direction, but things won’t get better in Israel until there is a cultural change underscoring that it is not okay to attack a nurse. National Nurses Union chairwoman Ilana Cohen told Israel Radio after the Holon attack that there had been a tacit understanding among nurses that unfortunately nothing would change until someone was killed. This remains to be seen.