We have all heard of the term ‘essential workers,’ a phrase commonly used during the COVID-19 crisis when referring to healthcare professionals. For these healthcare heroes, the term essential is an understatement. Healthcare professionals across North Carolina played a critical role in slowing the spread, flattening the curve, reducing the death rates, and conserving the seemingly depleted supply of resources needed to save lives. Doctors, nurses, and medical staff nationwide fought on the frontlines to ensure the continuation of critical functions in the United States.
While many of us stayed in the safety of our own homes, sheltered from the virus, healthcare professionals faced unprecedented capacity demands, which created major challenges in delivering care and navigating their own fears surrounding the pandemic. The last thing these healthcare heroes should be worrying about is violence from their own patients and the families they’re serving.
The unprecedented national quarantine and the sudden, self-generated recession of the once-booming economy only further escalated the already-rising tensions being felt in every facet of life. The release of data and the military metaphor of healthcare workers “waging war on the front lines” against COVID-19 has become a reality as we see rising numbers in workplace violence.
Prior to the pandemic we saw alarming statistics for nonfatal work-place violence-related injuries and illnesses. Since the pandemic, more than 82% of healthcare workers have reported workplace violence, 64% have reported verbal threats, and 33% reported verbal assault based on their sex and/or appearance.
As the Chief Deputy of the Brunswick County Sheriff’s Office, I can personally attest to the rise in violence since the beginning of COVID-19 as well as an increase in mental health issues, substance abuse, and domestic violence. Earlier this year, New Hanover Regional Medical Center experienced a violent assault on two hospital employees. It’s time to consider the alarming data for verbal and physical assault and consider how many instances of healthcare violence have gone unreported.
If we’ve learned anything from the COVID-19 pandemic it’s that there are still so many areas that we, as a society, desperately need to take a closer look at, in order to create a better life for all. The ill-effects of the virus have highlighted the growing need for new policy against healthcare violence.
What does that look like and how do we start? Perhaps the first step would be implementing workplace violence prevention standards for all employers to cultivate and execute — maybe strengthening our current General Statues by making this a higher class of felony to serve as a deterrent.
Regardless of how we address it, I feel that we can all collectively agree that it is beyond time for us to begin having the conversations of how we can best support those who have served tirelessly on the frontlines of this pandemic for nearly three-years now.
To our healthcare heroes: Throughout the pandemic you were recognized as essential workers, the backbone of our society, and praised for your fearless service during the uncertainties of the COVID-19 pandemic. You had our backs, now it’s time for us to have yours.
State Representative Charles Miller is a member of the North Carolina General Assembly representing House District 19, which includes Brunswick County and part of New Hanover County.