Hospitals are among the most violent workplaces in the US, and it’s getting worse

Violence in hospitals is rising.
Violence in hospitals is rising.
Image: Reuters/Mike Blake
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A healthcare worker at a hospital is six times more likely to experience violence in the workplace than the average US worker, according to the most recent data in 2018 from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). For those at nursing and residential facilities, it’s 10 times higher than average—21 nonfatal injuries for every 10,000 workers. Cumulatively, the healthcare and social services industries have the highest rate of workplace violence in the US.

The pandemic has worsened the situation.

In a survey released April 14 by National Nurses United, the largest organization of registered nurses in the US, 48% of hospital nurses reported a small or significant increase in workplace violence, up from 30% in September 2021, and 21% in March 2021. The year-on-year increase from March 2021 to March 2022 was 119%.

The BLS data only includes nonfatal injuries that require days away from work. Uncounted are verbal assaults or injuries that do not require days off, though copious accounts from healthcare workers detail the level of violence from patients they face.

Some incidents of violence at hospitals are fatal. Between 2011-2018, the most recent available data, there was an average of 20 deaths a year in healthcare and social work facilities , according to the BLS. Relative or domestic partner violence accounted for the single largest category of assailants, though patients, co-workers, and other clients were the perpetrators for 62 deaths, with another 31 homicides from unknown or uncategorized assailants.

Working in healthcare during the pandemic, including the rising violence at hospitals, is taking its toll on the mental health of nurses. The omicron wave left many nurses even more burdened, as colleagues fell sick exacerbating staffing shortages. National Nurses United also surveyed the mental distress among nurses and found sharp spikes in difficulty sleeping, anxiety, and depression. More than half feel traumatized by their experience, a 65% increase from just six months ago.