Robert C Garrett
At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic nearly two years ago, I was heartened by the support for our frontline heroes: restaurants and community members delivered food; Colorful banners appeared at the hospital entrances thanking the staff, and gossip was the order of the day.
I understand we are all suffering from pandemic fatigue, but I have a request: can we all gather again and show our support for our nurses, doctors and teams who continue to put patients first. Let’s start with respect and courtesy in our hospitals.
Unfortunately, to better protect staff in our 17-hospital New Jersey hospital system and to create a more healing environment, we recently put up signs in hospitals warning people that “aggressive or disruptive behavior will not be tolerated!”. the signs: threats, verbal and physical; use of abusive or vulgar language; Failure to follow staff instructions and physical assault.
Violence against healthcare workers is not a new phenomenon. However, employees across the country are reporting increases in verbal and physical abuse as the pandemic continues to turn our lives upside down. According to a survey conducted this summer by the National Nurses United union, up to 31% of nurses in the US have reported an increase in workplace violence, up from 22% in March 2021. In a system in San Diego, there is verbal and physical abuse of employees up 17 percent year-on-year through September. The Cleveland Clinic asks visitors to sign a “partnership pledge” to be respectful to caregivers and not to raise their voices or use profanity when interacting with staff.
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Our hospitals too are witnessing cases of disrespectful and abusive treatment of our staff and too much hostility in a place of healing. Employees are verbally abused because they remind people of our mask requirement; Even asking a simple question about whether a patient or visitor has received a COVID vaccine can evoke anger and hostility. I hear that regularly from the front.
“We are partners in care, partners with patients, their families and the community,” noted Dr. Joseph Underwood, chief of emergency medicine at Hackensack University Medical Center. “The foundations of this partnership are mutual respect and basic human decency. If we don’t see that, it degrades patient care, can impact outcomes and break our trust.”
Underwood recently recalled a patient who yelled at his doctor for not wanting to give the man the treatment he wanted. Although the doctor explained that this was not indicated for the patient’s situation, the patient became argumentative.
Please remember that the country’s medical workers have been through so much: repeated surges, the death of 850,000 Americans and for many this has resulted in post-traumatic stress. They too have been personally affected by COVID and the virus has thinned out the workforce. It’s no surprise that about one in five healthcare workers in the US has left their job since the pandemic began. And the next few weeks will be difficult in hospitals across the country: hospital admissions are at 156,000, but more patients are expected as increases in inpatient volume typically lag behind spikes in total cases.
We understand families are frustrated, especially as states restrict visits to hospitals during the surges. This unrelenting pandemic has burdened families with disruptions to work and personal learning, and an uncertain future amid the virus’ persistence. Healthcare isn’t the only place people are venting their frustrations: flight attendants are seeing an all-time rise in unruly passengers; 1 in 5 say they are physically threatened. Shoppers have even killed retail workers for enforcing local mask regulations.
Let’s remember who serves at the front. Our healthcare heroes are selfless and deserve our unwavering gratitude, respect, and courtesy. Our nurses and doctors do not judge. Their mission is clear: to provide the best, most compassionate care. Patients come first. They will be there in our darkest hour. We will get through this together with mutual respect and compassion.
Robert C. Garrett is CEO of Hackensack Meridian Health, New Jersey’s largest healthcare network with 17 hospitals, more than 500 patient care facilities and the Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine.