Warner Thomas, president and CEO of New Orleans-based Ochsner Health, wants to make violence against healthcare workers a felony in Louisiana after one of his employees was attacked by an unknown intruder. Officials say the ICU nurse is in recovery while the hospital tracks down the assailant.
Standing Up to Workplace Violence
According to the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office, deputies arrived at the hospital at around 11 PM local time on Thursday night.
Capt. Rivarde said that hospital security and the local police responded quickly to the call, but the attacker had already left the scene by the time they arrived.
In a press release, Thomas said that the nurse was attacked by a patient’s family at the Westbank campus in Gretna. The hospital is working with the police to identify the suspect, but no arrests have been made and the motive remains unclear.
Police have also released an image of the alleged attacker to the public to see if anyone can recognize him.
“There is nothing more important to us than the safety and security of our employees and our patients. Workplace violence in any form – physical, verbal, non-verbal or emotional – is unacceptable, and we will not tolerate this behavior,” Thomas added.
“Workplace violence against healthcare workers has been escalating throughout the pandemic and has reached a point that legislation needs to be considered to make this violence a felony. This consideration under review by a Louisiana task force comes as U.S. hospitals grapple with an increase in disruptive or violent incidents in hospitals — many involving hostile visitors – adding further stress to the healthcare workplace,” he said.
Thomas went on to thank his workers for remaining professional throughout the incident.
“We would like to thank our employees who acted swiftly in a challenging and stressful situation and started emergency protocols. Ochsner has dispatched additional security officers and police detail across the health system, and we are focused on providing counseling services and additional support to our employees during this time,” the statement reads.
Thomas said that once the suspect has been found, the hospital will “press charges against the assailant to the full extent of the law.”
Workplace violence has long been an issue in the healthcare industry, but the problem seems to have only gotten worse since the start of the pandemic. Around 80% of nurses reported they were attacked while on the job in the past year.
According to Lisa Wolf, registered nurse and research director for the Emergency Nurses Association, “There is a top-to-bottom cultural assumption that violence is part of the job. It goes from the bedside up to the judicial system.”
Assaulting anyone is a crime, but many perpetrators of violence against nurses do not suffer the consequences. Thirty-two states have laws on the books that make it a felony if someone assaults a healthcare worker, including Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas, Washington, West Virginia, and Wisconsin. Louisiana is not on this list.
Despite these laws, reports show that over half of all physical assaults on nurses go unreported.
Seven states, including California, Connecticut, Illinois, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, and Washington, require health care employers to implement workplace violence prevention programs.
Increasing the penalty for these kinds of attacks may help reduce the rate of workplace violence against nurses. Patients and family members may stop attacking staff if they are aware of the consequences.