Health Care Is One of America’s Most Violent Fields

09 August 2023

A wave of violence is increasingly affecting American hospitals and medical centers.

Recent attacks at such places make health care one of the nation's most violent industries. Data shows American health care workers experience more non-deadly injuries from workplace violence than workers in any other profession -- including law enforcement.

FILE - Northside Hospital Midtown where a man killed one and wounded four on May 3, 2023. (Arvin Temkar/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)
FILE - Northside Hospital Midtown where a man killed one and wounded four on May 3, 2023. (Arvin Temkar/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)

Michael D'Angelo is a former police officer. He now works as a security adviser in Florida. His work centers on health care and workplace violence. He said, "health care workers don't even think about" risks to their safety when they decide to become a nurse or doctor.

But, he added, "health care is four or five times more dangerous than any other profession."

Several mass shootings have taken place in hospitals across the country.

In June of last year, a gunman killed his doctor and three other people at a medical office in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The gunman said he blamed the doctor for his continuing pain after an operation.

In October of last year, a man killed two workers at a hospital in Dallas, Texas, while he was there for his child's birth.

This past May, a man opened fire in a medical center waiting room in Atlanta, Georgia. One woman died and four other people were wounded.

And late last month, a gunman shot and killed a security guard at Legacy Good Samaritan Medical Center in Portland, Oregon. Police later shot and killed the suspect, who was at the hospital for his child's birth.

Hospitals and medical centers are trying to create a safer environment for workers.

Legacy Health said it plans to add more metal detectors at all of its medical centers. It also plans to require bag searches at every hospital and send patients and visitors to controlled entrances. Legacy Health also said it will provide more officers with stun guns and will add protective measures from bullets to some glass at main entrances.

The American Nurses Association says around 40 states have passed laws creating or increasing punishment for violence against health care workers. And some states, including Indiana, Ohio, and Georgia, let hospitals create their own police forces.

Critics say private hospital police can worsen the health care and policing inequalities already experienced by Black people. They also say private police forces often do not have to release information such as how often they use force or if they detain members of a minority group more often.

Deborah Burger is a registered nurse and president of National Nurses United. She said security teams cannot change the reasons leading to violence. Many of the reasons exist because of the country's problematic health care system, she said.

Patients and families are often frustrated by high medical bills, limited treatment choices and long wait times.

"Hospitals don't really have a complaints department, so the only real target they have is the nurse or staff that are standing right in front of them," she said.

Worker shortages mean nurses are forced to care for more patients. That means less time to examine each one for behavior problems. Burger said efforts to calm an aggressive patient are not as effective if nurses have not been able to spend enough time to build a relationship with patients.

Some hospitals tell their staff to try to make peace with aggressive visitors and patients. Hospital leaders want to avoid getting bad reviews from patients, Burger said. That is because the Affordable Care Act has tied part of federal repayment rates to patient satisfaction survey results. Low satisfaction means less money for the hospitals.

D'Angelo, the former police officer, said, "The results of those surveys should never take priority over staff safety."

I'm Gregory Stachel.

Rebecca Boone reported this story for The Associated Press. Gregory Stachel adapted it for VOA Learning English.


Words in This Story

stun gun n. a gun that produces an electric shock which makes someone unconscious or stops someone from moving

frustrated adj. very angry, discouraged, or upset because of being unable to do or complete something

complaint n. a statement that you are unhappy or not satisfied with something

staff n. a group of people who work for an organization or business

review n. a report that gives someone's opinion about the quality of a book, performance, or product

satisfaction n. a result that deals with a problem or complaint in an acceptable way

survey n. an activity in which many people are asked a question or a series of questions in order to gather information about what most people do or think about something

priority n. the condition of being more important than something or someone else and therefore coming or being dealt with first