Tidelands Health team backs proposed state law meant to deter violence against health care workers
Tidelands Health team members joined counterparts from other South Carolina health systems at the state Capitol on Tuesday in support of a proposed state law designed to deter violence against health care workers.
Bruce Bailey, president and CEO of Tidelands Health, Ashley Capps, associate vice president of nursing operations at Tidelands Health, and Deborah Gainey, head nurse in the emergency department at Tidelands Waccamaw Community Hospital, were on hand as state lawmakers considered a measure that would enhance criminal penalties for people who commit violence against health care workers.
Violence against health care workers is a national problem. Studies have shown that health care workers are four times as likely as their counterparts in the other industries to suffer from workplace violence and that the vast majority of incidents are perpetrated by patients.
“Our goal in coming to the Capitol was to demonstrate to lawmakers that our health system’s administrative and clinical teams, like their colleagues across South Carolina, are united in a commitment to strengthen workplace safety for health care workers,” Bailey said. “We believe enhancing penalties against people who commit violence against health care workers will help us protect our team members by making would-be assailants think twice before acting.”
Bailey and Gainey are submitting written testimony in support of the legislation to the House of Representatives subcommittee that held a hearing Tuesday to consider the bill.
In her testimony, Gainey recalled an incident when she was violently and unexpectedly kicked in the groin by a patient.
“Instead of taking care of patients, I had to check myself in for care and missed the rest of my shift,” she said. “And the emotional pain I suffered that day far outweighed the physical injury – it’s hard for me to explain how difficult it was to come back in to work knowing I’d end up seeing the same patient that had attacked me.”
Gainey, who rearranged her schedule to attend the hearing on a day off, explained how violence against health care workers disrupts emergency department operations by drawing resources away from patient care. She’s worked as a nurse for 15 years, including 13 years in emergency departments.
“If we are trying to restrain a patient, that means we aren’t able to provide care to people in the waiting room,” Gainey said. “And if one of us is injured in the incident, as in my case, the department is temporarily left a person down.”
Health care workers deserve special protection under state law because of the unique nature of their work, Bailey said. He noted that hospital emergency departments cannot turn away patients – even those who have violent backgrounds – in need of emergency care.
“There’s no magic bullet to addressing the challenge, but this type of legislation is an important part of the mix,” he said. “Our goal is for people to view hospitals and physician offices in much the same way they view school zones – as places where proper conduct and safety are paramount.”
He noted that Tidelands Health has implemented a comprehensive workplace safety strategy to reduce patient-perpetrated violence and verbal abuse. The health system has substantially enhanced security, created a new area at Tidelands Georgetown Memorial Hospital to safely house behavioral health patients until they can be properly placed elsewhere and trained hundreds of team members on strategies to de-escalate confrontational situations, among numerous other measures.
“We are resolute in our commitment to protect our team members, patients and visitors from workplace violence at Tidelands Health,” Bailey said. “There is nothing of greater importance, and we’re asking our state lawmakers to help us in our efforts.”
Tuesday’s hearing on enhanced penalties for violence against health care workers comes on the heels of back-to-back shootings at two South Carolina hospitals in early April. The first took place at The Regional Medical Center – Orangeburg and the second at Prisma Health Laurens County Hospital.
Representatives with both organizations were on hand for the hearing Tuesday to explain the impact of the violence on their organizations and encourage lawmakers to take action.