Trained and Ready

Dealing with workplace violence in the healthcare environment means having the policies, procedures and training in place to respond quickly and effectively

Those results are a marked decrease in incidents of workplace violence at Novant hospitals, including its largest, Forsyth Medical Center in Winston-Salem, N.C., where Potter is headquartered. The training is not only focused on physical training, but also on how to lower the tension levels and respond in non-violent ways.

Novant security officers do not carry firearms — the only people on the campus who do are police officers. Instead, the security officers carry ASP Batons — extendable metal batons that were made popular by law enforcement agencies such as the Secret Service — along with OC spray. But the batons and spray, much like tasers and other non-lethal forms of defense, are most effective as a deterrent. “Our officers started carrying the ASP Baton in 2003, and the first time anyone was actually hit with one was in April of 2012, which goes back to the training and using force as a last resort,” Potter says. “The baton is a deterrent, and it’s a very effective tool.”

The 360-officer force at Novant is trained to identify potential violent activity through the analysis of human traits like body language and speech. They are keying on verbally expressed anger and frustration, threatening gestures, signs of drug or alcohol use and the presence of a weapon.

In the case of an incident, the goal is clear — to reduce the level of tension and confrontation. “When our officers respond, they are the problem-solvers,” Potter says. “People call us and they expect us to take care of the situation, and the vast majority of them don’t involve physical confrontation.”

The bottom line is that wherever it ranks on the latest Bureau of Labor Statistics or FBI study, workplace violence is going to be a major issue for healthcare organizations — from the emergency rooms, to psychiatric wards, to general waiting areas. The key is for an effective, well-trained response. “Before I came here, our officers didn’t carry anything, and it took quite a bit of time for us to convince administration to allow (non-lethal forms of defense),” Potter says. “The fact that we have used them so seldom reinforces the fact that training is what it’s all about.”