Although many incidents go unreported, emergency preparedness experts say there is a large increase in hospital violence across the country over the past decade and hospitals must prepare for the worst, according to Anesthesiology News.
Most recently, in April, FierceHealthcare reported two separate stabbings injured two nurses in Los Angeles, one of them critically.
Hospitals began to report an increase in simple assaults, rapes, sexual assaults and homicides in 2004, according to The Joint Commission sentinel event alert issued in 2010.
But hospital violence isn't just a U.S. healthcare problem. An Otago University survey published in the New Zealand Medical Journal, showed 38 percent of medical staff were physically assaulted by aggressive patients and nearly all said they had been verbally assaulted.
"The situation is different at every hospital. But, in general, the majority of violence in a hospital is targeted acts, not random. Nurses are often the No. 1 target. It's things like people lashing out at them because they don't think they are getting the right kind of service," Marilyn Hollier, director of hospital and health center security services at the University of Michigan Hospitals and Health Centers, in Ann Arbor, and president of the International Association for Healthcare Security & Safety, told Anesthesiology News.
In a 2012 study, researchers from Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore found that although firearm violence is on the rise, it often occurs outside hospital walls, but still on hospital grounds, and is much less prevalent than other forms of workplace violence. In the majority of hospital violence incidents, researchers found the perpetrator has an intended specific target, and hospital staff are unlikely to be victims of indiscriminate violence.
However, hospitals must prepare for the worst, and need a plan that is unique to their institutions, experts told Anesthesiology News. They advise hospitals to organize active shooter drills so that staff will know what to do should the situation ever come to fruition.
"You're not going to know what to do until you drill this for real. It should be as automatic as fire drills or disaster response," said Andrew Dennis, a trauma surgeon and chair of resuscitative and prehospital traumatology at Cook County Hospital, in Chicago, and a SWAT officer and director of medical operations of the Cook County sheriff's office.