Security and safety experts are calling on hospital executives to pay greater attention to preventing workplace violence.

About 130 leaders representing emergency nurses, security directors and others allied to the field met privately this summer to address the ominous climate today in emergency departments and elsewhere on hospital campuses.

"A lot of people truly don't understand the scope of workplace violence because it has been underreported and considered part of the job," Bryan Warren, president of the International Association for Healthcare Security & Safety, said during a press briefing at the conference, which was closed to the public. He urged hospital leaders to take several steps, including:

  • Increase training and education for security staff.
  • Implement certification and security standards.
  • Deploy fundamental and integrated security system solutions — from wireless, multifunction panic buttons for nurses to sophisticated video surveillance systems to detect and deter violent situations.
  • Create a culture in which security staff and clinicians see themselves as part of a team.

Gail Lenehan, president of the Emergency Nurses Association, emphasized the need for hospitals to reassess how they view security. Image concerns, she said, should not override doing what is necessary to reduce violence, noting that emotional and psychological injuries during incidents are as real as physical ones.

Hospitals, Lenehan said, must work to create a security presence that is a "badge of honor" for the facility and recognized as such by patients.

Kevin Weeks, director of health care marketing for Tyco Integrated Security, one of the three organizations along with ENA and the IAHSS that launched the conference, lamented the difficulty of trying to quantify violent episodes.

Underreporting of violence is commonplace, Weeks and the others noted. Likewise, it's difficult to measure how often violence is prevented thanks to security staff actions, technology or other factors.