Nurses Demand Safer Workplace Conditions Violence Growing as Threat to Profession

Article excerpt

When visiting nurse Waneta Boatright went to see a home-bound patient in Girard, Kan., on Feb. 7, the scene she found stunned her -- two people shot to death in the living room.

Police received her frantic call for help at 10 a.m. Three minutes later, they arrived to find Boatright, 51, dead from a gunshot wound. The patient's 21-year-old son was charged with the shooting.

For years, America's nurses have accepted a dark reality about their profession: The patients they serve can injure or even kill them. For a long time, they simply accepted risk as part of the job and resignedly sustained injuries ranging from sprained wrists to broken bones.

But nurses increasingly are taking their demands for a safer workplace to hospital administrators, state lawmakers and, in some cases, to the picket line.

Dangerous job

According to the American Nurses Association, the rate of injuries among nurses exceeds the rate among workers in other, more traditionally injury-prone professions.

The most recent Bureau of Labor Statistics survey of occupational injuries found that about 118,000, or 4.6 percent, of the nation's 2.6 million nurses and nurse's aides suffered sprains, fractures, bruises and cuts on the job in 1997.

By comparison, 3.4 percent of the country's 1.1 million carpenters sustained similar on-the-job injuries, as did 1.9 percent of the nation's 641,000 police officers that same year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

While the specific causes of nurses' injuries are not recorded, officials at the Washington, D.C.-based nurses association say regional surveys indicate a substantial number of injuries, such as broken bones and bruises, arise from violence and abuse at the hands of patients, or their agitated family members or friends.

Studies don't always reflect the extent of the problem, many nurses contend, because hospitals often fail to report some incidents. For example, a survey in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine revealed that Washington state's psychiatric hospitals reported only one-tenth of the nearly 500 injuries to nurses in 1997.

As a result, nurses associations around the country have begun conducting local surveys. …