Violence Against EMS Responders and Hospital Staff

Many in the emergency response community are noting an increase in violent actions directed towards their crews.  While the motivations for attacking responders vary — among them, mental illness, confusion, anger, and mistrust — the end result of these attacks, has at times, proven to be fatal for those in the fire and EMS communities.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 2,600 EMS workers received hospital treatment in 2014 for injuries resulting from work-related violence.

Last year, researchers published an article that investigated injuries to paramedics and emergency medical technicians from patient-initiated violence. These EMS workers were employed by a large, urban fire department. Here’s what the researchers found:

  • EMS workers are more likely to be assaulted by patients than firefighters. Gender is not the determining factor of who gets assaulted.
  • There is a disconnect between EMS workers in the field and the dispatchers who collect information about the medical emergency.
  • There is a general lack of knowledge and skill on how to prevent violent attacks on EMS workers from occurring. Free online training opportunities, like this National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health course, can help to address this issue.
  • Signage in the back of ambulances that states, “It is a felony to assault a first responder,” may deter patients from assaulting EMS workers. Such signage is widely used in Canada and the United Kingdom. In addition to informing the public, such a sign shows fire department support for EMS workers.
  • The department’s computer-aided dispatch (CAD) system should utilize a flag that dispatchers can use to alert EMS workers that a destination is the location of a previous patient-initiated violent injury. This is already in use in urban departments in Dallas and Montgomery County, Pennsylvania.
  • The fire department can reduce EMS worker stress levels by evaluating opportunities to add more personnel to the roster, ensuring EMS workers have food and rest breaks during their shifts to encourage recovery from work and supporting them during legal proceedings after an assault occurs.

Meantime, a resolution to allow personnel from the Pittsburg County Office of Emergency Management to carry firearms has been locked, loaded and passed. County commissioners said they wanted to give the emergency management personnel the opportunity to defend themselves, should it ever be necessary.

In the hospital environment, some workers, especially in emergency rooms, say they experience some level of assault — biting, hitting, kicking and chasing — so often they consider it an unavoidable part of the job. Most attacks don’t result in serious injury, but hundreds have resulted in workers’ compensation claims in California alone in recent years, according to a Times review.

Nearly 40% of employees in California emergency rooms said they had been assaulted on the job in the previous year, according to a survey by UC San Francisco and other researchers in 2007. More than one in 10 emergency room nurses surveyed in 2010 said they had been attacked in the previous week, according to the Emergency Nurses Assn., which represents 40,000 emergency room nurses nationally.

Many industry experts and hospital staffers say they believe violence by patients and visitors is rising but can’t say for sure because it hasn’t been rigorously tracked over time. The issue has recently gained attention, however, as hospital employee unions, including the California Nurses Assn., have begun pushing for broader protections and more reporting by hospitals.