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Harrington’s Three-Point Plan to Make its Hospital Safer

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the incidence of serious workplace violence is four times more likely in healthcare. That national statistic hit home on June 14 with the tragic attack of long-time Harrington Hospital emergency department nurse, Elise Wilson, on our facility’s Southbridge campus. The attack drew national attention to the issue of healthcare workplace violence and left our organization searching for answers to important questions: Could this attack have been prevented? Was our response to the situation adequate? What can we do to prevent similar tragedies in the future?

In the aftermath of that attack, we’ve been working to answer those questions and to create a safer environment for our employees, patients and visitors alike. Indeed, in the weeks and months leading up to the incident, Harrington had already organized a workplace safety committee and initiated efforts to make the healthcare system and its many accessible spaces safer, a task made more urgent by the June attack.

Health care professionals work with an especially fragile and sometimes unpredictable population, which makes them soft targets for aggressive patients. In an effort to anticipate and minimize that risk, Harrington’s workplace safety committee conducted professional security assessments of all public spaces across the entire campus and is now implementing a three-point plan to minimize workplace violence through enhanced physical security, emergency preparedness and staff education/awareness.

Physical security includes such things as the installation of a walk-through metal detector at the entrance to the emergency department at the Southbridge and Webster campuses. Patients being evaluated or treated in the emergency department are now limited to one visitor and re-entry is discouraged. (Exceptions may be made at the discretion of the charge nurse.) Cameras, panic buttons and alarms have been added in many locations, some areas are now restricted to card access and the Southbridge vestibule area has been re-constructed to better accommodate public safety and registration personnel.

Emergency preparedness includes a new reverse 911 system, similar to what many communities now use to inform their residents, to keep all staff informed of emergencies; adoption of new emergency codes that describe situations in plain language so staff, patients and visitors will immediately know the nature of impending danger; and new communication protocols and incident command training/drills.

Staff education/awareness includes training in managing aggressive behaviors, unit-specific violence avoidance training, collaboration with local law enforcement and continued policy review and development. In the weeks ahead, we will be working closely with the Massachusetts Health & Hospital Association (MHA) to share what we have learned from this experience with other member hospitals and to take a leadership role in advancing best practices in workplace safety.

We appreciate the patience and understanding of our patients and visitors as we pursue our goal of making Harrington one of the safest hospitals in the Commonwealth, with an added goal of preserving an environment of considerate and compassionate care for our patients.

Footnote: I’m happy to report that Elise Wilson is well on her way to recovery. Harrington employees, the local and national medical community have rallied in a tremendous show of support around Elise, her colleagues in the emergency department who heroically saved her life and Harrington Hospital. We remain forever grateful for the quick response and support from local law enforcement officers, area legislators and other community leaders who assisted us during this difficult time. #HarringtonStrong

Ed Moore, President and CEO; Harrington HealthCare System

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