Joint Commission: Be on alert for healthcare violence

Healthcare facilities today are being confronted with steadily increasing rates of crime, including assault, rape and murder, warns a new Sentinel Event Alert issued by The Joint Commission.

Specifically, U.S. healthcare facilities have experienced "36 incidents in 2007, 41 in 2008 and 33 in 2009," according to the Sentinel Alert statement. Although the Commission notes that the numbers may be lower than reality due to underreporting, the number of reports has sharply risen from 2002 to 2003, when incidents were in the single digits.

"Healthcare facilities should be places of healing, not harm. But, unfortunately, healthcare settings are not immune from the types of violence that are found in the other areas of our lives," says Mark R. Chassin, MD, MPP, MPH, president, The Joint Commission. "The recommendations in this Alert give healthcare institutions and caregivers specific strategies to take action that will keep everyone safer."

Recurring causes of violence found in the Commission's database included leadership issues (62 percent), human-resource-related factors (60 percent), assessment issues (58 percent), communication problems, (53 percent), physical environment issues (36 percent) and problems with care planning noted less frequently.

The Alert recommends 13 specific steps for reducing the risk of healthcare violence, including the following:

  • Evaluate the facility's risk for violence, examining the campus, reviewing crime rates and surveying employees about their perceptions of risk.
  • Take extra security precautions in the emergency department, especially if the facility is in an area with a high crime rate or gang activity.
  • Prescreen all job applicants and clinical staff, and verify the clinician's record with appropriate boards of registration.
  • Train appropriate staff members in how to respond to agitated, potentially violent family members and include procedures for notifying supervisors and security staff.
  • Ensure supervisors recognize behaviors related to domestic violence issues.
  • Report crime to law enforcement.

To learn more:
- see the press release from the Joint Commission
- see the Sentinel Event Alert