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Digging Deeper: Area healthcare providers continue pursuing strategies to protect their workers

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LA CROSSE, Wis. (WXOW) --- Reducing violence at hospitals and clinics has been a constant battle for healthcare providers.

“We have had staff get hurt, get punched, or you know, we’ve had physicians have that happen to them,” said Rachelle Schultz, president and CEO of Winona Health.

According to the Occupational Safety & Health Administration, 75% of workplace assaults happen in a healthcare setting.

"Historically, health care workers considered it part of the job, and a lot of those incidents didn’t get reported up to the level they should’ve been," said David Moitzheim, Security Operations Manager, at Mayo Clinic Health System-La Crosse Campus.

Hospital and clinic security are on the front lines, helping defend their nurses and doctors from agitated patients and visitors.

“We had over 20,000 calls last year, so we’re busy enough," said Sgt. Ryan McGuire, security officer for Gundersen Health. "I think we are well-needed in the hospital. We do more, I think, than most places will do.”

Area healthcare providers News 19 spoke too cited substance abuse and behavioral health as the top reasons for an increase in violence.

"It’s blowing up big time," said Officer John Driscoll from Mayo Clinic Health System. "I’m just shocked by the amount of homelessness and drug use involved as well as the behavioral health due to the opioid crisis and everything else."

More incidents have caused providers to continuously enhance their workplace violence prevention plans through different strategies.

Winona Health utilizes its surveillance system during debrief sessions with staff.

We’ve got cameras up all over, so a lot of times, we can actually just rollback the film, see what happened and look at where we missed something some places there something else we could put in place that would’ve prevented that or at least a resource to help,” said Schultz.

Mayo Clinic Health System plans to implement a worldwide security system within the next five years to secure all of their locations by observing data.

“From time to time, we see issues occurring at one location, it’s very likely that it’s going to happen some place else, so we think the global security operation control center is going to be a big feather in our cap," said Moitzheim. "It’s going to help us share information. It’s more technology-focused. We’re relying more on data than people’s opinions."

Gundersen Health has revamped its training to help staff deal with agitated people.

"There’s a training called ACES, trauma-informed care, and CPI, and that’s more how we talk to people and understanding why they might be, you know what traumas in their early might have contributed to how they are now,” said Sgt. McGuire.

Even with these different strategies, reducing violence will continue to be a challenge.

“It’s always been a profession which you’ve had to protect yourself from things," said Jason Fratzke, Chief Nursing Officer for Mayo Clinic Health System.

All three healthcare providers News 19 spoke with said that the emergency room is where they see the most violence.

A Minnesota Law passed back in 2016 made it illegal to harm healthcare workers, but lawmakers are hoping to increase the penalties from a fine of $4,000 to $10,000 and increase prison sentences from a maximum of two years to three years.

Wisconsin legislators are looking at similar legislation to increase their punishments for harming healthcare workers.

Last year, Congress passed a bill that would direct OSHA to standardize workplace violence prevention plans for healthcare employers and social service workers. The bill has yet to be heard in the Senate.

Mike Beiermeister

WXOW Weekend Anchor and Reporter

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