Commentary: Bill Empowers Whistleblowers on Safety Issue (East Bay Times)
Going to work as a registered nurse at Alameda County’s John George Psychiatric Hospital makes me proud -- I’m passionate about extending the human right of compassionate care to patients who are too often on the fringes of society. But sometimes stepping into the hospital also makes me afraid, because I know my safety isn’t a high priority for hospital administrators.
By voting for AB 2835 by Assemblyman Jim Cooper, Bay Area legislators can help ensure that my colleagues and I who dedicate ourselves to public service have the information we need to stay safe, starting on Day One.
Health care workers face extremely high levels of violence on the job, including physical, emotional, sexual and verbal assaults.
According to California’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration, nearly 5,000 incidents of workplace violence in health care settings were reported in California from 2010-2012. Many more go unreported.
I’ve personally witnessed several violent assaults on staff by patients at my hospital. Patients have punched staff members in the face, causing concussions and even requiring reconstructive surgery.
Several of my colleagues have suffered torn rotator cuffs after being required to physically contain a patient. Beyond the physical injuries, these incidents and the lack of a supportive response from hospital executives demoralize the entire staff.
Staff use more sick time and hesitate to intervene with aggressive patients, conditions that undermine teamwork and effective patient care. Burnout is common.
The same front-line staff who are at most risk for violence who are in the best position to recommend solutions to keep patients, staff, and visitors safe -- but you wouldn’t know it from the actions of hospital administrators.
Staff at my hospital even experienced retaliation after they blew the whistle on dangerous conditions in our psychiatric emergency department.
AB 2835 ensures that every new public employee has a standardized orientation that includes workplace safety plans, preventing workplace violence and sexual harassment, whistleblower protections, and worker rights.
The bill also protects taxpayers by creating safe conditions for public employees to expose costly or unsafe situations. When every employee knows their rights and responsibilities to stand up for what’s right on the job, it will be harder for high-level bureaucrats to shove these concerns under the rug.
While staff at my hospital are trained in de-escalating crisis situations, administrators haven’t been supportive of safety plans that could prevent an incident from turning threatening in the first place.
Nurses banded together though our union, SEIU, to push for new violence prevention regulations that would give us peace of mind on the job after hospitals turned up their noses at implementing safety measures.
We’re proud of these forthcoming new rules, but it will take all of us holding hospital employers accountable to ensure they are implemented.
A standard orientation focused on safety and preventing problems will ensure management is engaged in discussing the dangerous situations we face in the workplace, and nurses know their recourse so we can ensure these crucial issues won’t be ignored.
Like my colleagues, I pursued a career in registered nursing to focus on patient care. After five years on the job, I know doing right by my patients also means advocating for a safe hospital environment. Our elected leaders must stand with nurses by making AB 2835 law. Rachel Odes is a registered nurse at the John George Psychiatric Hospital in San Leandro.