SEIU Local 121RN, Pasadena, California, 7.22.14
I am a Registered Nurse and co-lead on the California Safe Care Standard campaign. Right before we launched the campaign to educate, mobilize, and organize around getting the Cal/OSHA Standards Board to accept our petition to promulgate a comprehensive workplace violence prevention standard for healthcare workers, someone asked me, “Have you ever been a victim of workplace violence?” I replied, “No.” “You’ve never been kicked, bitten, lashed out at, anything like that?” “Well, yeah, of course,” I said, and then it finally hit home.
I was a Critical Care Registered Nurse for fifteen years in an Intensive Care Unit that had a lot of patients with substance abuse issues. No one single event during that time stands out in my memory, but we all faced – and even expected – to be kicked and hit every day. When violence is that pervasive, it’s difficult to recognize it because it’s an “ordinary” occurrence. Healthcare workers don’t report it because it becomes ingrained in us as “part of the job.” We don’t want to be seen as victims. We don’t want our patients to be seen as “bad” people. We are caregivers, so we make excuses about the violence and move on as if it was just any other part of our day.
Our campaign has worked to change that dialogue in both the healthcare profession and the public. Workplace violence is not acceptable. It’s not “part of the job.” And it’s certainly not our fault or our patients’ fault. Employers have a responsibility for ensuring a safe workplace to all their employees and need to be held accountable. Needless to say, a safer workplace for us will, by extension, mean a safer environment for our patients, and as caregivers and patient advocates, that is extremely important to us.