Letter to a Legislator: Workplace Violence

March 23, 2015
Senator Renee Unterman
Georgia State Capitol
121-J State Capitol
Atlanta, GA. 30334
Dear Senator Unterman:
My name is Fatima Punja and I am a nursing student at Emory University. I have lived in Gwinnett County for the past decade and I know you share my interest in nursing and prevention of violent crime. I am writing to you about my concern relating to increased workplace violence against healthcare workers. As stated in your final report of the Violence against Healthcare Workers Joint Study Committee, this issue not only affects healthcare workers in a wide variety of settings, but in turn, leads to decreased visitor and patient safety. Workplace violence also negatively impacts quality of care as well as financial loss in many hospitals in the state of Georgia and throughout the United States. I agree with your solution to make it a felony to threaten or harm healthcare workers; however, because a significant number of incidents go unreported, I strongly recommend expansion of the existing bill to include educational components for healthcare staff that can prevent violence from occurring in the first place.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration defines workplace violence as any threat or act of disruptive behavior such as physical assaults, verbal abuse, and homicide, that can affect employees, patients, and visitors (United States Department of Labor, 2010). It also refers to the Bureau of Labor Statistics and United States Department of Labor, stating that homicide is the fourth-leading cause of fatal occupational injuries in the United States and is the leading cause of death for women in the workplace. Common causes for violence in nursing-related and healthcare settings include old age (>66), withdrawal from substances such as alcohol and opioids, access to weapons, unmet pain management needs, and conditions and medications which cause confusion, irritability, agitation, decreased impulse control, and/or intense anxiety (Menendez & Dillon, 2012). In a 2014 questionnaire titled Workplace Violence in Nursing, submitted to nearly 4,000 nurses with only about 700 completing the survey, responses showed that over 60% of the nurses had been exposed to workplace violence in the previous year. As supported by the knowledge that a significant majority of those with access to the survey chose not to respond, many cases of workplace violence remain unreported; this same study states that this is due to the victim’s beliefs that reporting the incidence will not bring about any change (Kvas & Seljak, 2014). Although the current bill addresses this issue, because now those who report the incidence will see the attacker undergo consequences, it may not necessarily result in a significant reduction the actual incidences of workplace violence itself.
I would like to suggest a solution to this issue that involves educating employees on workplace violence background, identifying those at risk, and recognizing early warning signs in order to prevent incidences of workplace violence in their respective settings. I believe it is important that nurses and other healthcare workers recognize the magnitude of this problem and its effects because awareness is often the first step in creating change. Educating workers about at-risk populations and settings in which violence is most likely to occur is an important factor to consider as well. Perhaps the most significant component of the teaching is to inform staff members of causes and triggers leading to threats or actions of violence, as well as to explain how to deal with violence if it does occur. Regular employee education related to this topic will not only allow healthcare workers to be prepared in case of violent occurrences, but also to be knowledgeable about how to best deal with violence if it does occur, and understand how to quickly and efficiently respond to violence in a way that increases the likelihood of best possible outcomes. Although this solution may require time, effort, and resources to implement, a short educational session or online module on this very important issue will be beneficial in the long run because it will result in decreased incidence of workplace violence, ultimately decreasing time-related and financial losses. I firmly believe that the expansion of the current bill to include this educational component will be an ethically sound and economically beneficial decision that will result in significantly decreased incidents of workplace violence and request you to consider my solutions to this issue. I will be happy to discuss this further at your convenience; I can be reached via email at fpunja@emory.edu. Thank you so much for your time and all that you do for the Buford District and the State of Georgia.
Fatima Punja


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