Hospital issues panic buttons after COVID-related attacks
Written by Jim Salter | News agency
Nurses and hundreds of other staff members will soon start wearing panic buttons at a Missouri hospital where assaults on workers have tripled after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Cox Branson Medical Center uses grant money to add buttons to identification badges worn by up to 400 employees working in emergency rooms and inpatient hospital rooms. Pressing the button will immediately alert hospital security, triggering a tracking system that will send assistance to the worker at risk. The hospital hopes to have the system up and running by the end of the year.
A similar program was successfully tested last year at Springfield Hospital in Cox Health, spokeswoman for the program Caitlin McConnell said Tuesday.
Hospital data showed that the number of “security incidents” at Branson Hospital rose from 94 in 2019 to 162 in 2020. Assaults rose from 40 to 123 during the same period, and injuries to healthcare workers rose from 17 to 78. 2021 was unavailable.
The Delta type of virus hit hard in southwestern Missouri starting in June, leaving hospitals so full that many patients were sent to other facilities hundreds of miles away. The hospital in Branson, a popular tourist town known for its many shows and attractions, has been at or near capacity for four months now.
CoxHealth’s director of safety and security, Alan Butler, said panic buttons “fill a dangerous void.”
“Personal panic buttons are another tool in the fight to keep our employees safe and demonstrate this organization’s commitment to maintaining a safe work and care environment,” Butler said in a statement.
Missouri hospital is not alone. The Texas Tribune reported earlier this month a rise in assaults on Texas hospitals, incidents that officials believe are fueled by an increase in COVID-19 hospital admissions.
Jane McCurley, chief nursing officer of Methodist Health Care System in Texas, said at a press conference in August that staff at the San Antonio hospital were “cursed, yelled, threatened with physical harm, and even pulled with knives.”
Worldwide, a report by Geneva-based Insecurity Insight and the University of California, Berkeley Human Rights Center identified more than 1,100 threats or acts of violence against health care workers and facilities last year. The researchers found that about 400 of those attacks were related to COVID-19, many out of fear or frustration.
Missouri Hospital Association spokesman Dave Dillon said assaults on health care workers have been a concern for years, but that COVID-19 “changed the dynamic in many ways.” Among them: Efforts to slow the spread of the virus mean that relatives often cannot accompany a sick person, raising already high stress levels.
Using the alert button is among many steps hospitals are taking to protect workers, said Jackie Gatz, vice president of safety and preparedness for the Missouri Hospital Association. Security cameras have been added and some security personnel wear body cameras. CoxHealth added security dogs late last year in Springfield.
The Missouri Hospital Association also provides training to help workers protect themselves, including training on how to recognize someone and de-escalate when they become restless. Gatz said nurses and staff are also invited to stand between the hospital bed and the door.
“You can control your environment without necessarily putting up physical barriers,” Gatz said.