Spectrum Health officials say they're seeing a rise of attacks on healthcare workers because of the pandemic.
"We've noticed about a three-fold increase in violent or threatening behavior," Chief Medical Officer Dr. Joshua Kooistra says.
He links the spikes in physical and verbal assaults to COVID-19 cases in West Michigan. Spectrum Health is seeing one of its busiest weeks ever with nearly 200 COVID-19 patients in the hospital right now.
"As the number of cases increases, then we impose further restrictions like visitor restrictions or masking requirements, the incidents do seem to correlate with those surges," Dr. Koositra says.
Before the pandemic, the hospital system saw about 100 assaults per month, and now the monthly average is up to 300.
"It can range from anything from a patient or family member being belligerent with us about a masking requirement to a full-on violent and physical assault against staff," he says. "Unfortunately, sometimes our staff are kicked, spit on [or] bit."
Dr. Kooistra says some of the incidents are out of the patient's control due to a patient's health, but there's also some bad intentions he's noticed because of polarizing opinions during the pandemic.
"When their opinions are so entrenched in who they are and they're challenged, people come out more aggressively than they normally would," he says.
Doctors, nurses and staff are doing de-escalation training to help, and a safety alert button has been added to their badge to call security when needed. Dr. Kooistra has experienced these situations firsthand.
"When you're placed in those situations, your level of anxiety rises to a point where you know you're not providing as good of care as you can," he says.
Dr. Kooistra hopes everyone remembers that's what hospital workers are there for — to take care of everyone.
"Trying to be argumentative or disruptive with that (healthcare worker) really does no good except prevent you or hinder you from getting the best care that you could so I'd ask that you have grace with our healthcare team," he says.
A recent study from National Nurses United found more than 30 percent of hospital nurses have experienced violence at work, which is up ten percent from this past spring.
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