9 out of 10 Alaska nurses say they've seen or felt workplace violence, survey shows

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ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - Hundreds of Alaska nurses were surveyed for a recent study on workplace violence, and over 90% of those nurses said they had either witnessed or experienced violence while on the job.

The survey, released by the Alaska Nurses Association, aims to highlight what the organization calls a vitally important issue.

According to roughly 400 nurses in the state who were part of the survey, 91% responded they have witnessed or experienced workplace violence, and 92% actively fear workplace violence during their workday.

The violence is broken down to physical assault, verbal assault, emotional assault, and sexual assault. Of the 400, 68% experienced physical, 91% experienced verbal, 77% experienced emotional, and 24% reported being sexually assaulted in the workplace.

The reported perpetrators of these assaults, according to survey results, was patients, who make up 68%, and patient’s family members, making up another 31%.

Just 33% of nurses in the survey said they reported each and every incident they witnessed or experienced, and 27% said they'd never reported any at all, despite seeing or feeling that abuse. The reason they go unreported is often that nurses don't have clear guidance as to what severity of incident warrants a report.

Some also said they are worried about the condition of their patient or they fear retaliation. The study showed that 30% of nurses did not even know how to report violence in their workplace.

Stacey Sever, the health and safety officer with Alaska Nurses Association, said that this is a rising issue especially in mental health hospitals and in emergency rooms, but it's also starting to spread to other parts of hospitals and clinics statewide.

"This is a nation-wide issue too," Sever said. "It's not just here in Alaska. Increasingly, due to the opioid crisis, and the mental health crisis, and facilities not being able to care for people when they're in their crisis of mental health issues."

"We are seeing that, what used to be a once in every few week incidence of violence and outburst, is now coming to be three to four times a day," Sever said.

One thing that Sever and others nation-wide are pushing for in Washington is legislation called House Resolution 1309, or the Workplace Violence Prevention for Health Care and Social Service Workers Act.

The bill aims to create a set of standards which are not currently in place, that would help OSHA enforce employer minimums across the board. The culture of fear in the workplace has led to nurses fearing retaliation. With HR1309, OSHA could ding companies that allow that kind of culture to flourish.

"Other occupations have standards put in place for workplace safety, and we are just requesting the same thing with the legislation," Sever said. "Health care has been kind of behind due to the culture of, 'well, it's part of the job.' Well, it's not part of the job. People should be able to go to work and be safe."

Sever said she hopes Alaska's delegation in Washington, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Sen. Dan Sullivan, and Rep. Don Young, will help sponsor the bill to better protect Alaska's nurses.

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