National Nurses United survey shows spikes in workplace violence, staffing issues remain

A new survey of registered nurses finds major spikes in workplace violence and staffing problems in hospitals across the country. 

The survey, released Thursday by National Nurses United, comes as the union is pressing Congress to adopt federal staffing legislation to protect nurses from unsafe staffing levels. Nursing shortages have exacerbated across the country due in part to burnout because of the pandemic. 

“We are now more than three years into the pandemic and not only is staffing worse, but workplace violence is increasing,” said Zenei Triunfo-Cortez, president of the union, in a statement. “Nurses are experiencing alarming levels of moral distress and moral injury due to unsafe working conditions.”

The union reached out to 2,575 nurses across the country from February to March of this year. 

It found that 48% of nurses experienced a small or significant spike in workplace violence, a nearly 18 percentage point increase compared to 30% in September and 21% in a similar survey in March 2021.

The union’s survey also delved into the explosion of hospitals relying on overtime or pricey contract staff, which has driven up labor expenses across the hospital industry.

Most nurses (64.5%) said their facilities used excessive overtime to staff and another 72.3% reported a spike in travel nurse employment.

It also found that 69% of respondents say staffing has gotten slightly or much worse recently, a 20% increase compared to a similar survey in September 2021. 

Nurses have also experienced shifts in care to areas that are not in their expertise. The survey found 26.5% of nurses were reassigned compared with 17.8% in Sept. 2021. 

Another 46% of nurses said they didn’t receive any education or preparation before being reassigned. 

The operational issues also underscore major injury issues facing the nursing workforce, primarily if they will contract COVID-19. For example, 66% of nurses said they fear they will contract the virus and another 74% think they will infect a family member. 

Nurses are also experiencing a large amount of burnout and stress triggered by the pandemic. The survey found 83% feel stressed more often than they did before the pandemic, a 56.1% increase from the September 2021 survey, and 68% feel more sad or depressed.

National Nurses United has pressed the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to issue permanent workplace safety standards since the onset of the pandemic. While OSHA did issue a temporary standard that enforced key protections for front-line workers, the agency let the order expire.