The recent deaths of Nurse Katie Annette Flowers and social worker Jacqueline Ama Pokuaa have rocked the North Texas medical community.
On October 22, the two healthcare employees were gunned down at Dallas Methodist Health System allegedly by 30-year-old Nestor Hernandez, a parolee wearing an ankle monitor, as reported by The Dallas Express.
Local leaders have begun looking for answers to the systemic failure that lead to the incident.
Advocates and healthcare employees expressed that the shootings represent the latest in an increasing wave of workplace violence that has been increasing in recent years. Organizations representing healthcare workers are looking to both hospitals and the federal government to better protect healthcare employees before such violence does irreparable harm to hospitals across the country.
“We can’t afford, right now especially, for any more health care providers, whether it’s nurses, doctors, social workers, whomever, we can’t afford to have anyone leave the bedside,” said Serena Bumpus, CEO of the Texas Nurses Association speaking to The Dallas Morning News. “Health care is hanging by a thread right now.”
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as reported by CDC, 20,050 workers in the private industry experienced trauma from nonfatal workplace violence in 2020. These incidents required days away from work. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 392 U.S. workers were workplace homicide victims in 2020.
“It’s definitely a huge contributing factor to why nurses are leaving the bedside. Workplace violence, it’s psychological trauma,” Bumpus said.
Hospital work is often very demanding and healthcare staff, such as nurses, usually work long and arduous hours.
Hospitals are naturally highly stressed environments. In emergency rooms, people waiting to see a doctor or nurse wait for hours at times and can sometimes get disorderly.
“It’s emotional work. People aren’t doing well. They may be very sick, they may be dying. In the case of social workers, there may be families that are getting disrupted or pulled apart,” said Cammie Chaumont Menéndez, an epidemiologist in the National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health’s Division of Safety Research, in an interview with The Dallas Morning News.
Violent outbursts from friends and family members looking to be treated for serious illness or injuries, and at times dealing with the death of a loved one, are not uncommon for hospital workers.
Change does appear to be coming.
The U.S. House of Representatives passed the Workplace Violence Prevention for Health Care and Social Service Workers Act in April 2021, which would mandate that OSHA create a federal standard requiring healthcare employers to develop workplace-specific violence prevention plans. The Senate version of the bill was introduced in May of this year.
In June, The Safety from Violence for Healthcare Employees Act (SAVE Act), was introduced in the House. Modeled after the federal statute that protects aircraft and airport employees, the SAVE Act would establish federal criminal penalties for people who knowingly assault hospital workers. The act authorizes $25 million in grant funding over 10 years for improving violence prevention efforts in hospitals through training and technology.
Jean Ross, president of National Nurses United, the largest union of registered nurses in the U.S., is optimistic that things will change. “I think everybody in the public understands what our lives are like inside these facilities, and if you didn’t before, you certainly do after this pandemic,” Ross told The Dallas Morning News. “We’re not often listened to. We need to push, we need to pester, we need to demand and insist and we will keep doing that until we get what we need. Nurses don’t give up.”