During Workplace Violence Awareness Month, VHHA Provides New Tools for Health Care Providers Focused on Protecting Staff

April 1, 2022

Health Care Professionals Face Elevated Risk of Workplace Violence While Doing Their Jobs; VHHA Workplace Violence Toolkit, Other Resources are Part of Continuing Efforts to Address These Concerns

RICHMOND, VA – In recognition of National Workplace Violence Awareness Month in April, the Virginia Hospital & Healthcare Association (VHHA) is sharing new resources to support hospitals, health care providers, and their staff while also enhancing public understanding of workplace violence and its disproportionate impact on health care professionals.

VHHA has developed a comprehensive Workplace Violence Prevention Toolkit with information about applicable state laws, background information on the topic, and detailed guidelines to support organizations in developing, implementing, evaluating, and sustaining workplace violence prevention programs. To supplement the toolkit, signage has also been developed for health care providers to post in their facilities that encourages patients and visitors to treat health care professionals with respect while reminding people that threatening violence against a health care worker is a crime in Virginia.

“Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, health care professionals faced an elevated risk of being harmed by episodes of violence in the workplace. That risk has grown over the years and continues to be a real safety concern for doctors, nurses, and other caregivers,” said VHHA President and CEO Sean T. Connaughton. “While it is understandable that hospitalized patients and their families may feel especially vulnerable when they or a loved one are receiving medical care, it is never appropriate to lash out verbally or physically at hospital staff and health care professionals. Such behavior has no place in health care settings. It is hurtful to the caregiver at whom it is directed, it is against the law, and importantly it is counterproductive to patient care. For all these reasons, we are working with hospitals members and other partners to focus attention on violence against health care workers and to develop tools that offer strategic approaches organizations can take to address these challenges.”

Added Virginia Nurses Association CEO Janet Wall: “The well-being of the health care workforce across Virginia is a top priority. Unfortunately, health care professionals experience workplace violence in many forms including intimidation, threats, physical and verbal abuse, and disruptive behavior. Such acts of violence, whether intentional or not, can cause long-lasting psychological, emotional, or physical harm to impacted staff members. The Workplace Violence Prevention Toolkit is a comprehensive document that provides employers with a strategic plan to increase the safety of the workplace, minimize workplace violence events, and respond appropriately if workplace violence occurs. VNA’s Commission for Nursing Practice strongly encourages health care organizations to adopt the best practices laid out in the toolkit.”

The development and release of the Workplace Violence Prevention Toolkit and related resources is a continuation of VHHA efforts to focus on workplace safety and violence prevention for workers in health care settings who face heightened risk for victimization. Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) indicates that of the 20,870 private sector workers who experienced trauma from non-fatal workplace violence in 2019 resulting in missed days from work, 70 percent worked in health care and related fields. BLS data also shows that the incidence rate of violence against health care workers rose each year from 2011-2018. Meanwhile, surveys conducted by the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) and the Emergency Nurses Association indicate that almost half of emergency physicians report being physically assaulted at work, while about 70 percent of emergency nurses report being hit and kicked on the job. Another survey conducted this year by Incredible Health found that 65 percent of “nurses surveyed reported that they had been verbally or physically assaulted by a patient or a patient’s family member within the last year.”

As troubling as these figures are, they may underestimate the threat health care workers face. The U.S. Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) notes that while health care “accounts for nearly as many serious violent injuries as all other industries combined . . . many more assaults or threats go unreported.” And that was prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has introduced more challenges into health care settings, including the potential for heightened workplace violence risk among health care workers. Some initial findings published in the March 2022 edition of the American Journal of Emergency Medicine offer insight into abuse directed towards hospital staff during the pandemic. The research, which is based on the experience of staff at an academic emergency department in the Midwestern U.S., found that instances of verbal abuse towards hospital staff rose along with “an increase in overall violent workplace incidents during the pandemic… compared to the three months prior…as well as compared to the previous year.”

To address workplace violence concerns, VHHA and other stakeholders successfully worked with the Virginia General Assembly in 2019 to strengthen protections for health care workers performing their job by making it a class 1 misdemeanor to threaten to kill or harm them while they are rendering care in a hospital, emergency department, or other clinical facility. In March 2020, the Association launched a Workplace Safety Task Force charged with determining a baseline measurement for statewide employee injuries, identifying and monitoring potential opportunities for improvement, and establishing best practice recommendations. The ongoing Task Force work includes a dedicated subgroup focused on workplace violence. An in-person Task Force workshop focused on building safer work environments is planned for the summer of 2022. Prior to that, an issue of VHHA’s REVIEW Magazine published in 2018 highlighted the topic of workplace violence and profiled several programs developed at member health systems to address prevention and safety.

About VHHA: The Virginia Hospital & Healthcare Association is an alliance of 110 hospitals and 25 health delivery systems that develops and advocates for sound health care policy in the Commonwealth. Its mission is to achieve excellence in both health care and health to make Virginia the healthiest state in the nation. Its vision is through collaboration with members and stakeholders, to ensure the sustainability of Virginia health care system, transform the delivery of care to promote lower costs and high value across the continuum of care, and to improve health for all Virginians. Connect with VHHA through Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, and Instagram.


Julian Walker
Vice President of Communications
(804) 297-3193 office
(804) 304-7402 mobile