Fatal Attack Renews Calls for Healthcare Workplace Safety

John Commins, for HealthLeaders Media , November 1, 2010

The public is becoming aware of the issue, and they're getting angry, thanks to high-profile media reports of attacks like the one that killed Palomata. The publicity is a good thing. People need to know about the extent of the problem.

In the wake of Palomata's murder, there have been calls to re-examine enhanced criminal penalties for assaults against healthcare workers. California enacted a law in 1993 requiring hospitals to have a security plan in place for general acute-care hospitals, but the law did not cover prisons and jails. There is now a call to amend the law to include correctional facilities.

The California Nurses Association has weighed in too, and it's completely appropriate that they do. CNA represents the nurses at the Contra Costa Health Services, which contracts to provide inmate healthcare services. The union says its members had repeatedly called for stronger security measures, but that the health system has indicated it is not responsible for security at the detention center, and has ignored requests for security upgrades in the main hospital to include 24-hour guards, metal detectors and other security devices in the ER and psychiatric unit.   

"We can no longer tolerate inadequate security measures which threaten not only RNs and other staff, but also put families and other patients at risk," said Kay McVay, RN, CAN's president emeritus, and a long-time resident of Contra Costa County.

CNA is correct to raise these concerns. So far, it's not clear what—if anything—could have been done to prevent Palomata's murder. Perhaps it was an isolated, tragic instance. However, there are just too many of these "isolated" incidents going on across the nation, and hospitals must be compelled to evaluate their security measures to ensure a safe workplace for their frontline healthcare workers.

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