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Patients Attacking Nurses in a New Hospital Epidemic

December 2nd, 2021 by Guest Communications


Written by: James T. Mulder,

 (TNS) – A rise in physical and verbal attacks on nurses and other medical staff has prompted a Madison County hospital CEO to call on patients, families and visitors to control their tempers.

More than 40 cases of physical and verbal abuse against staff have been reported over the past year at Oneida Health, a 101-bed hospital in Oneida. The number of cases is probably higher than that because many incidents go unreported, according to Gene Morreale, the hospital’s president and CEO.

An Oneida nurse was recently injured by an angry patient who hit her with a part from a medical device. The nurse is pressing charges against the patient.

“The injury was not just the physical bruise, but also the emotional injury, both of which were very evident,” Morreale said in a letter to the community posted on Oneida’s website.

Oneida has also had cases where nurses patients have kicked and verbally harassed nurses.

Morreale said the spike is happening at a time when short-staffed hospitals are struggling to provide care for an increased number of patients.

A shortage of nurses in particular is causing longer than normal wait times at many Central New York hospital emergency rooms.

“… There are times when you as a patient are struggling and perhaps feel that the healthcare system is not doing enough for you or your loved one,” Morreale said in the letter. “I understand that happens, but it does not get fixed by being physically or verbally abusive.”

Violence against nurses and other health care workers in hospitals and other health care facilities is a growing national epidemic, according to National Nurses United, a union.

In a recent national survey of more than 5,000 nurses, 31% said they have seen an increase in workplace violence since the Covid-19 pandemic began in March of 2020.

Nurses surveyed attributed the increase to decreased staffing, changes in the patient population and visitor restrictions.

Health care workers are four times more likely to be verbally or physically abused than workers in private industry, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Bassett Healthcare Network, of Cooperstown, recently gave all employees personal alert buttons that summon nearby coworkers and security to help de-escalate potential workplace violence incidents.

“If they’re confronted with a hostile situation, they’ll be able to act quickly – and help will arrive quickly,” Bassett said in a news release.

Bassett operates five hospitals, nursing homes and primary care health centers in Central New York and the Mohawk Valley.

Morreale said many hospital staffers have left their jobs in Oneida’s emergency department and other units “… because the demands and at times difficult situations far outweigh the job satisfaction they went into this profession for.”

Oneida has posted signs in the hospital warning that physical or verbal violence against staff will not be tolerated. It has also trained staff how to de-escalate confrontations. “Yet the aggressive, inappropriate behavior continues,” Morreale said.

He urged patients, families and visitors to stop and think before acting aggressively towards a health care worker.

“So please, control your emotions, communicate with staff and listen to what is being explained,” he said.

Have you experienced anger or unruly behavior in a health care setting in recent weeks? Whether you are a provider or a patient, we’d like to hear from you. Please contact James T. Mulder using the information below.

James T. Mulder covers health and higher education. Have a news tip? Contact him at (315) 470-2245 or

©2021 Advance Local Media LLC. Visit Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


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