Charleston, SC

Charleston healthcare workers experiencing rising violence at hospitals

Libby-Jane Charleston
Hospital workers are subjected to a dreadful amount of abuseHush Naidoo/Unsplash

Healthcare workers in Charleston, S.C are facing unprecented challenges during the pandemic but they're dealing with a rising crisis that began well before COVID-19 arrived in the US. Workers have spoken of a rising issue with what they say is an epidemic of violence that occurs inside healthcare facilities, which continues to be of major concern.

It's well known that workplace violence is a major safety issue in hospitals and health systems across South Carolina. Studies show that healthcare workers are significantly more likely to be the victims of violence and abuse than workers in other industries, and the South Carolina Hospital Association (SCHA) is committed to making hospitals a safer place to work, visit and receive care.

“This has been a problem for as long as I’ve been a nurse, and that’s over 30 years,” said Patti Hart, Medical University of South Carolina Chief Nursing Officer. Patti oversees care team members at the hospital, making sure they're safe. But she claims doctors and nurses are facing increasingly unsafe situations they should not have to put up with, that's making their important job very difficult to carry out.

“They’ve had to endure verbal, and some physical abuse,” Patti said. “It’s amazing to me the challenges that we face day in and day out.”

According to Live 5 News, data from public health care system, MUSC, there has been a rise in violence against health care workers across the Lowcounty.

At MUSC, there have been about 1,000 violent incidents against healthcare workers since 2016, many of those from patients.

  • 2016: 141 total workplace violence incidents
  • 2017: 174 total workplace violence incidents
  • 2018: 133 total workplace violence incidents
  • 2019: 295 total workplace violence incidents
  • 2020: 153 total workplace violence incidents

And while this data is tracked at individual hospitals, there's no way to know if this problem is getting worse around the state because there is no state-wide reporting system.

“It really is done at a local level, which is one of the challenges to really aggregate how deep this problem is,” Patti said.

Lara Hewitt, Vice President of Workforce and Member Engagement at the South Carolina Hospital Association, said better data is needed when it comes to these violent incidents.

“It’s a lot of anecdotal data, but we need more concrete data,” Lara said. “And then tracking that data. Because if you track that data, then you can develop interventions and figure out how to respond.”

The SCHA has worked alongside state lawmakers to introduce a bill in 2018 that would give stricter penalties to people who assault healthcare workers; but the bill never passed.

“We are one of only about three states who do not have enhanced penalties already on the books,” Lara said. And, because they couldnt get any success on passing the bill, the SCHA is now considering tackling the issue in other ways.

“We may look to in the future to look at more of a trespass bill, which is more like creating a safety zone around hospitals so it’s kind of a protected area and if you do cross into that area, making threats or doing anything that would be suspected of condoning violence than that would be punishable,” Lara said.
Hospitals are encouraged to report incidents of violenceMufid Majnun/Unsplash

The SCHA recently launched a Hospitals Safe Zone campaign which helped people report abuse at hospitals.

According to the SCHA, real culture change is needed on this issue. They are currently advocating for legislation that provides special protections for healthcare caregivers and first responders by providing enhanced penalties for those who commit acts of violence against them. An independent study published by the New England Journal of Medicine confirmed that South Carolina is one of only three states without enhanced penalties for violence against healthcare workers.

The SCHA is supporting hospitals by encouraging a culture of identifying and reporting incidents of violence as part of an overall commitment to safety in their organizations. This could include everything from creating formal processes for reporting violence to providing information and resources dedicated to the safety and health of the health care workforce.

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I'm a journalist and author writing across a wide range of topics, including tech, travel, history, business/startups, relationships, beauty & fashion, British royal history, & local stories concerning Charleston, S.C (where I have a long family history on my father's side: hence my surname! ) Former HuffPost Assoc Ed, ABC TV, ATV Beijing correspondent and many more. Author of "Fatal Females." Mother of three boys: I will love them until the Statue of Liberty sits down.


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