As Nurses & Physicians Continue to Face Workforce Shortages, Improving Healthcare Workforce Safety Becomes a Top Priority


Desperate times call for desperate measures, and the healthcare industry is no exception. The COVID-19 pandemic continues to present a significant challenge for the healthcare industry, creating hefty healthcare workforce struggles. After nearly three years, many healthcare systems are still struggling to cope with the unprecedented healthcare staffing shortage across many specialties. Given the situation, it brings up the question: how can hospitals attract and retain the quality staff they need, especially as times get tough? While more education opportunities for prospective healthcare professionals, more training, better hours, and general socioemotional support for staff are all key, promoting healthcare workforce safety and violence prevention should be just as important.

In the face of widespread and persistent staffing shortages, many health systems have tried strategically addressing different parts of health professionals’ workforce realities to improve retention, including increased wages, strengthened hiring and retention efforts, among other measures to help combat healthcare workforce struggles. An often-cited AAOHN healthcare workforce safety study from 2021 found that nearly 45% of surveyed nurses reported physical violence during the height of the pandemic, and nearly 68% experienced verbal abuse during the same time. As recently as last week, healthcare staff at various critical Chicago-area hospitals came forward with calls to action to improve their workplace conditions, citing violence against nurses, physicians and other staff as a key reason so many were experiencing burnout and leaving their professions.

Gene Petrino, the founder of workplace violence prevention and hospital safety solutions firm Survival Response, breaks down why solving the healthcare staffing crisis means putting staff safety as a top priority in a health system’s strategic response.

 Gene’s Thoughts

“Now, staffing hasn’t always been an issue. In fact, for nearly two decades, financial concerns was the number one priority for all hospital executives. That is until 2021, 2022, and going forward, that’s staffing. Staffing is the issue.

So why is that? Now, most people are going to say that it’s the pandemic that caused this, but the truth is the pandemic had been just fuel to the fire of an existing problem. There’s been staffing shortages in hospitals and healthcare facilities for really decades, but why is that? Why are there these positions that are really great positions not being filled?

So some people will say that it’s money, that they’re not being compensated properly. I can assure you it’s not that. And how do I know this? Only 25% of those leaving that industry are leaving because of pay. There’s other reasons, and this is evidenced by a survey that was done in 2022, about 700 nurses, and compensation ranked number eight for why they wanted to leave their job. The number one reason that they were looking at leaving their job, or were going to leave their job, was safety.

See, healthcare is one of the most violent and most dangerous professions that you can be in. In fact, 75% of all workplace violence occurs in healthcare. So why are we not addressing the safety issue? Well, safety is really not one of those key performance indicators that are really looked at. Yet, it can improve your productivity, profitability, employee satisfaction, and even patient safety.

So that’s what we need to start looking at. Hospital executives need to take that whole concept of looking at patient safety as a priority, and putting that on the back burner just a little bit. Let’s put the employee safety as number one. Here’s what’s going to happen when you do that. First,  employees that feel happy and engaged are going to be about 18% more productive, and they’re going to have about 50% fewer mistakes that are created on the job.

That right there is going to improve your patient safety. But what’s even more fascinating is that nearly 60% of those who feel happy, safe, and engaged in their jobs are less likely to leave. So if you want to retain and attract new staff, you need to look at your safety protocols. So that’s my answer for the question of how you address the problem. Let’s start taking a focus away from the patient’s safety, which sounds a little odd. Let’s put it right onto the employee’s safety, and you can start to reverse this problem that’s been going on in healthcare for decades.”

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