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Health care industry can look to campuses for violence prevention education

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Health care organizations are vulnerable to violent incidents against health care workers, due to factors such as stressful hospital environments and patients' mental health conditions.

Behavioral intervention teams modeled after those used on college campuses to prevent violence at universities also can be used in health care organizations in order to reduce episodes involving patients attacking health care staff, according to a mental health legal expert.

Carolyn Wolf, executive partner at the law firm of Abrams, Fensterman, Fensterman, Eisman, Formato, Ferrara & Wolf L.L.P., based in New Hyde Park, New York, said during the American Society for Healthcare Risk Management 2015 conference in Indianapolis that risk managers need to offer training and incorporate programs such as behavioral intervention teams for health care organizations, in order to keep both health care workers and patients safe.

Shortly after the Virginia Tech campus shooting in which 32 were killed and 17 wounded in 2007 occurred, behavioral intervention teams started cropping up at universities with the purpose of being successful at finding and mitigating the risk of violence in higher education settings. “The BIT group consists of people that specialize in identifying risks. The team receives reports of disruptive or concerning behavior, conducts an investigation, performs a threat assessment and then deploys its resources and coordinates a follow up,” Ms. Wolf said.

BIT teams focus on a caring and preventative approach to support the employee, she said. “When someone reports behavior that could become violent it's not handled as a 'tattle tale' situation,” she said. “The program is meant to be supportive, not to punish the behavior.”

Both training and education are keys to workplace violence prevention. “Every workplace environment must adopt a workplace violence policy and prevention program and communicate the policy and program to employees,” Ms. Wolf said. Some of the items the policy should include are complaint procedures and a hotline, also procedures for addressing threats and threatening behavior.

Other effective methods of preventing workplace violence incidents are controlling the access to offices with locks after hours and security guards, having an alert system to a system to alert security, and designing the workspace to allow for an escape route.

Also, practicing evacuation drills and active-shooter drills is crucial. “The organizations that had practice drills and later had a violent episode at work had the highest survival rates of incidents in the workplace.”