CoxHealth recently announced their goal of providing personal panic buttons to hundreds of staff members at Cox Medical Center Branson. These panic buttons, already introduced at CoxHealth in Springfield last year, allow staff to call for assistance in the event of an assault and are just one of many steps hospitals in Missouri have taken as a result of increased violence against medical workers in recent years.

Amid the confusion and unease caused by COVID-19, frontline workers have experienced a greater number of assaults both verbal and physical. Hospital staff in particular have received an even greater amount of abuse than usual.

President of Mercy Hospital Springfield Brent Hubbard said there has been a notable increase in what he calls “events” between patients and workers since the pandemic began. However, there was already a growing rate of violence well before COVID-19.

“We’ve experienced an increase in workplace assaults on coworkers over the last year, and really we’ve seen a growing trend of that over probably the last ten years,” Hubbard said. “We’ve certainly seen a more pronounced increase in violence against healthcare workers over the last two years, especially with the additional stress that the pandemic has caused.”

It is not clear why this increase in violence is occurring, though there are some potential explanations.

Trevor Wolfe, a member of the Missouri Nurses Association, said he believes the increase in violence is the result of general social issues coupled with pandemic unrest.

“Yes, you can say the last year is COVID related, of course, but before that, and I think leading up to how bad it got in the last year, (it) is really just a general erosion of social decorum,” Wolfe said.

Hubbard said many of the assault cases at Mercy have involved substance abuse or other forms of mental illness.

“The underlying root cause is the ongoing mental health epidemic that our nation is facing,” Hubbard said. “The underserved needs of mental health in our communities is certainly a driving factor.”

Regardless of the cause, the consequences of the violence medical staff experience are quite clear. While Hubbard described the many efforts to prevent assaults, he also said hospital resources go toward taking care of workers involved in cases that were simply unavoidable. Such care involves organizing support from fellow workers as well as offering trained counselors.

Mental health and wellbeing among nurses has also suffered. Wolfe described some of his own experiences as a nurse, including how he’s been punched in the face on multiple occasions just in one year.

Wolfe said those assaults forced him out of his career. Given his stature as a 6-foot tall, 240 pound man, he suspects such abuse can affect the average nurse even more.

Wolfe noted this culture of violence against hospital staff within the last decade has led to a shortage in nurses, primarily those practicing at the bedside, closely involved with patients.

There are, however, still those who intend to get into the profession despite potential hostility, such as nursing major Mary Brandon. Brandon has already witnessed medical violence despite being a mere student.

While Brandon does have some reservations about her intended career due to possible violence, she said her concern is mostly about the culture rather than the increasing rate of assaults itself.

“I was aware of this when I started my education and am not super worried about the growing violence per se,” Brandon said. “I am more worried about the mindset that you can push around the nurses and you will get away with it.”

Wolfe said that, despite the violence he suffered, nursing has still been rewarding for him, and those hoping to go into the field should not simply expect to be abused.

“Being a recipient of workplace violence is not part of the job and should not be tolerated, and we are making changes,” Wolfe said. “I think nursing is an amazing profession. You can do so much. You can learn so much and be a part of so much, and I’m definitely not gonna tell anybody to run away, but I will tell you to stand up, and do not accept workplace violence as a part of the job.”


Follow Andrew Michael on Twitter, @OverAnder

Subscribe to The Standard's free weekly newsletter here