How Better Emergency Communications Can Address the Nursing Mental Health Crisis

Appropriate emergency plans, anonymous tip lines and safety apps can improve nurse safety and security.

How Better Emergency Communications Can Address the Nursing Mental Health Crisis

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There’s a reason we admire nurses: much like first responders, police and firefighters, nurses choose a career path that dedicates their time to caring for others. It can also be a grueling job, with little self-gain, a high toll of trauma and severe mental burnout. In fact, a study found that there are higher rates of suicide among men and women working in nursing when compared with non-nurses.

Nurses experience twice the average rate of clinical depression compared to other occupations. Tough work conditions – such as being understaffed, withstanding verbal and physical harassment by patients and doctors and working long, grueling shifts – are just some of the many reasons why nurses are feeling  mental burnout.

Promoting a sustainable, healthy work environment for nurses is necessary for the future of healthcare.  Nurses need to know they have the tools and support they need to keep themselves safe when faced with difficult patients or aggressive visitors. By implementing better emergency communication tools and proper safety plans, hospitals and healthcare facilities can greatly reduce the stress that weighs on nurses, leading to a positive change in nurses’ mental health.

Implement Appropriate Emergency and Safety Plans

Workplace violence is four times more likely to occur in a healthcare setting than other private industries, and 96% of male nurses and 85% of female nurses have been physically threatened by their own patients. A lack of control over personal safety and the ever-present fear of other threats, such as a mass shooting, can certainly lead to an increase in anxiety and tension, contributing to depression and burnout.

Luckily, the Workplace Violence Prevention for Health Care and Social Service Workers Act, which recently passed the House of Representatives, would push healthcare facility administrators to take more responsibility for workplace safety. The legislation would hold employers accountable, through OSHA, for having an effective violence prevention plan in place.

However, while the bill still has a way to go before becoming a law, hospitals need to ensure that emergency plans are in place now for every scenario. The 24/7 nature and critical staffing requirements of diverse professional and non-professional employees can obviously make this challenging.

Part of this is making sure that emergency contact databases are always up to date and emergency notification systems (ENS) are in functioning properly.

For example, Carle Foundation Hospital is a 393-bed, awarding-winning regional care hospital in Urbana, Illinois, operated by the not-for-profit, Carle Foundation. The hospital has over 6,500 staff members, and with quick turnover, they realized that constant manual updates to keep employee lists current made their existing emergency notification system unworkable and risked leaving many new employees in uninformed and potentially dangerous situations. The hospital turned to technology that kept their contact databases up to date and in sync at all times, ensuring that all current staff got the correct notifications, alleviating the stress of not knowing.

Whether it’s a fire, active shooter or severe weather incident, making sure the correct lines of communication are in place to ensure patients and staff are safe and informed is a necessity. Healthcare institutions need to not only have the appropriate notification systems in place, but also ways to ensure that 911 and first responders receive all the information they need going into an emergency situation. The more information first responders have, the more prepared they will be, ensuring the best possible outcome for everyone involved. Data such as who is calling 9-1-1, what type of emergency is occurring and more precise location information can be critical in the emergency response.

Give Nurses the Tools to Make Them Feel Safe

In June of 2017, a nurse was stabbed several times by a patient. The man had just gone through the registration process and was being directed for care. This threat, though it may seem extreme, is the unfortunate reality for many practitioners in the healthcare field. Therefore, creating a safe work environment must go beyond the institution’s emergency plans and make its way to individual employees, so they feel safe and secure on the job.

Nurses are often the victims of violence but feel powerless when an incident occurs. Being short staffed and assigned many patients makes it more likely that a nurse will be alone when a violent act happens, while also making it difficult to efficiently get the help required for the situation. This lack of support means that many incidents go unreported while nurses also carry out duties when they are physically hurt or mentally traumatized.

New technologies can be leveraged to better accommodate nurse safety. Today, everyone has their cellphone on them around the clock. A personal safety app, which can be easily downloaded to a phone, can be a powerful tool for increasing both nurse safety and addressing situations that could lead to mental distress or burnout. By making the app available on each employee’s phone and during an incident, institutions can easily give nurses the ability to quickly call 911 or seek assistance from a group of designated “guardians,” such as other nurses working on the floor or a nurse manager.

Tools like this literally give nurses the power to take control of their own safety, reducing response times, increasing better outcomes and alleviating anxiety.

Provide an Outlet for Reporting Incidents

Addressing personal safety is critical in healthcare settings, but institutions also need to make sure nurses have an outlet to report incidents when they occur.

Unfortunately, many healthcare professionals simply accept violence as part of the job. Many nurses – particularly those new to the profession – find it difficult to speak openly and freely about incidents because of potential negative personal and professional ramifications. Therefore, abuse, patient violence, sexual harassment, bullying and aggressive behavior all too often go unreported, taking an emotional toll on nurses.

To combat this often toxic workplace culture, nurses need to be given an outlet where they can report incidents of violence. A study found that 61% of respondents would be more likely to report a safety issue if they could do it anonymously. As for healthcare workers, 25% of those who experienced a workplace violence incident didn’t have a way to report it anonymously.

An easy solution would be to implement an anonymous tip application so that if an employee is subject to verbal or physical attacks, whether from a patient and their family or bullying from a coworker, they can submit an anonymous tip to hospital managers. The app can help raise awareness of workplace safety concerns among medical professionals, and better understand the resources needed for proper response and support for nurses.

With the U.S. on the verge of a nursing shortage, hospitals and other healthcare institutions must take appropriate steps to create better, safer work environments for their staff. The use of technology, along with appropriate emergency plans, can make it so nurses and other healthcare workers feel supported and protected. By enabling nurses to take safety into their own hands, healthcare campuses can alleviate some of the stress that comes with the job and create a better environment for everyone.

Todd Miller is the COO of Rave Mobile Safety. This article was originally published in 2019.

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