Personal touch might defuse potential violence

Focusing more on personal interactions can defuse potentially violent situations, says Sean Ahrens, CPP, BSCP, CSC, senior security consultant with Schirmer Engineering in Glenview, IL.

Ahrens previously worked in a hospital security position, and he encouraged staff there to use personal contact as a way to reduce the stress levels of patients and family members, which in turn lowered the risk of violence. Training in violence prevention should include urging staff and physicians to remember that others do not see their workplace the same way they do.

For those working at the hospital, it is a familiar place, and even the stress and unpleasant acts are something they experience all the time. For patients and family members, the hospital can appear quite different.

"When I come into the emergency department with my little girl who's cut her hand badly, this is the biggest thing in my life right now, and I'm going to be scared and anxious and very defensive about my little girl," he says. "Now to the triage nurse, this is just another day at work. It's good for the nurse to remain calm, of course, but you have to remember that the patient and the family are not at their best. They're scared, and they could be capable of violence if they felt like they're being ignored."

Increasing personal contact is a good way to reduce that stress, especially in the emergency department, he says. When people wait for long periods in the emergency waiting room, they become increasingly anxious and frustrated, and going back to the triage nurse and demanding treatment only makes matters worse.

One solution is to have staff members circulate through the emergency department frequently to make contact with those waiting. Ideally, both a nurse and a representative from patient services should circulate. The nurse can evaluate the patients for any change in their conditions and reassure them that they will be seen as soon as possible, and the patient services representative can offer practical aid and comfort.

"It can make a big difference if someone comes by and offers concern that you've been waiting and offers to get some crackers and juice for your kids," he says. "We had a patient services representative assigned to the emergency department all the time for just that reason. It doesn't look like a function of security and preventing violence, but in the end, that's what you might be doing."