Teammates holding up signs in support of the SAVE Act

News, Nursing | one year ago

Protecting the Lives of Those Who Might Save Yours

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, workplace violence incidents have increased significantly at hospitals and doctor’s offices across the country. Now, the U.S. Congress is considering legislation that would offer health care workers the same protections against assault and intimidation as airline crews. Maureen Swick, Atrium Health senior vice president of nursing and pharmacy and enterprise nurse executive, has experienced this violence firsthand throughout her career as a nurse. That’s why she supports the Safety from Violence for Healthcare Employees (SAVE) Act, because the people who are working to save lives deserve protection of their own.

By: Maureen Swick, Atrium Health senior vice president and enterprise nurse executive

It sounds cliché, but I became a nurse because I wanted to help people. I wanted to save lives. 

I knew it would be hard. I didn’t know it would be dangerous. 

The job of a nurse is physically, mentally and emotionally challenging. Nurses work long shifts at all times of the day, on all days of the week. Nurses spend countless hours with patients, getting to know them and their families, doing all they can to help them when they are sick or hurt – to save their lives. It is a job with tremendous rewards. We see miraculous recoveries and experience the joy of life in helping families welcome new babies. But it is not always easy. The story does not always have a happy ending. 

We knew this when we decided to become nurses. We knew we’d be working nights, weekends and holidays. We knew we could be caring for people who were very sick. But when I decided I wanted to be a nurse, I did not think it could mean risking my personal safety because of the way I would be treated by the very people in my care

Part of the reason the violence occurs is the people in our care – our patients and their families – are often not at their best. They are emotionally, mentally and physically unwell, which can increase the likelihood of violence. We train our nurses and security personnel on de-escalation techniques, but sometimes, despite all our efforts, the violence results in physical assault or even worse, as we saw in Tulsa recently.

Nursing is actually one of the most dangerous jobs in the country. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s gotten worse. With crowded hospitals, restrictions on visitors and an overall sense of uncertainty, the threat of violence to health care workers has increased significantly. According to the American Hospital Association, recent studies indicate that 44% of nurses reported experiencing physical violence and 68% reported experiencing verbal abuse during the COVID-19 pandemic. This puts all of us at risk. In a setting like a hospital, where people go for help, we should be able to feel safe. All of us.

Now, lawmakers are discussing federal legislation that would give health care workers the same legal protections against assault and intimidation that flight crews and airport workers have under federal law. It’s called the Safety from Violence for Healthcare Employees (SAVE) Act. The American Hospital Association endorses the act. How could it not? How could any of us not?

If person in a grocery store or restaurant becomes abusive or violent, those businesses can prevent them from coming back. In a health care setting, we have to treat everyone. In my career as a nurse, I have experienced the threat of violenceI have even been involved in active shooter situations. I have seen co-workers attacked right next to me. I have been lucky. My children are nurses and they have experienced this violence. They have been lucky. 

Luck should not be part of it.

My experiences guide me every day in my role at Atrium Health. I work to build systems and protections to make the 17,000 nurses across our system safer. Workplace violence should not be part of the job.

We are nursesWe became nurses to help others. We became nurses to save lives. That should not mean risking our own. 

Maureen Swick, PhD, MSN, RN, NEA-BC

Senior Vice President, Nursing & Pharmacy

Enterprise Nurse Executive

Atrium Health

Atrium Health Executive Leaders Join in Supporting the Safety from Violence for Healthcare Employees (SAVE) Act

EVP Letter to Congress on SAVE Act
Atrium Health Letter to Congress on SAVE Act