Opinion: Colorado lawmakers should focus on prevention, not criminalization, to protect health care workers from violence

It’s no secret that our health care workers have faced unprecedented challenges over the past few years, from caring for the sick to staffing shortages to high rates of burnout during the pandemic. An October 12 story in the Colorado Sun details another challenge, the worrying increase in violence against health care workers in Colorado.

Data specific to actual incidents of workplace incivility, bullying, and violence is limited due to challenges in consistent reporting. However, the American Nurses Association Foundation’s 2022 survey of more than 11,000 nurses nationwide found that 60% of nurses experienced incivility and bullying, and 29% reported incidents of violence.

As Executive Director of the Colorado Nurses Association (CNA), I work every day to advocate on behalf of nurses, the largest and most trusted group of professionals in our health care system. Our work on behalf of all Colorado nurses is to assure that these academically and clinically prepared professionals are able to provide the care that each of us needs and deserves when we are sick.

That’s why CNA is supporting a bill during Colorado’s upcoming legislative session that focuses on reducing the risk and preventing workplace violence.

Nurses choose this profession because they have a strong desire to help people and make a positive impact on the lives of patients. They want to love their job, and they want nothing more than to be able to do their job safely and effectively. Health care workers deserve dignity, respect and safety at work. They should not be afraid to go to work.

Of course, we need action to keep health care workers safe. A CNA member and non-member survey in August indicated that nurses’ priorities for workplace safety are adequate staffing, education and professional development in de-escalation techniques, and consistent and reliable response teams to incidents of incivility, bullying, and violence. .

The proposal before state lawmakers would require hospitals to create violence prevention plans based on recommendations from frontline workers and the latest data on how and why violence is occurring in their facilities. It would also require hospitals to provide workplace violence training to workers, including proven de-escalation strategies to help workers protect themselves. Finally, this will ensure that health care workers are cared for by requiring facilities that offer a variety of resources, including mental health care, after an incident.

According to Suns reporting, some current efforts are being made to prevent workplace violence in health care facilities by increasing criminal penalties for attacks on health care workers. Although these efforts may be well-intentioned, they are unlikely to stop the violence. Assault is already a crime, and we know of no data that confirms that increased punishment reduces incidents of workplace violence.

Not only is there no evidence base for policies that increase criminal penalties if a health care worker is assaulted, but these policies disproportionately impact people with behavioral health problems, people with disabilities, and neurological conditions such as epilepsy, dementia, and others. Are. Furthermore, racism and implicit bias in our criminal justice system will disproportionately impact people of color. Black people make up 5% of the state’s residents, but 17% of people in prison and 18% of people in prison. This law will further increase this crisis.

Punishing an already vulnerable population after an incident doesn’t make us any safer, and these types of policies put health care providers in an ethically compromised position, who have a duty to protect themselves in the first place. Do no harm to your patients. Many health care workers may feel uncomfortable threatening legal action against their patients, knowing that it could result in serious charges, which would have a negative impact on their patients’ overall health and potentially worsen their condition. Can. We need to give these workers the tools to keep their workplaces safe so no one has to go to jail.

Although some may be tempted to threaten punitive action, it is more important to us that any legislative action drive meaningful change in work environments to prevent violence in the first place.

We need a research-backed, prevention-focused solution to protect health care workers. Health care workers are working hard to keep us healthy and safe amid unprecedented challenges, often putting their health at risk while battling burnout in high-intensity environments. They deserve real solutions to stay safe on the job.

Colleen Casper, DNP, RN, MS, is the executive director of the Colorado Nurses Association and a longtime nurse leader and hospital administrator in Colorado. Her work has always been about amplifying the voice of nursing in organizational policy and quality improvement.

The Colorado Sun is a nonpartisan news organization, and the opinions of columnists and editorial writers do not reflect the opinions of the newsroom.For more information about The Sun’s Opinion policy, read our ethics policy, Learn how to submit a column. Contact the Opinion Editor at opinion@coloradosun.com.

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