COVID-related attacks prompt Missouri hospital to issue panic buttons to employees



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BRANSON, Mo. (AP) – Nurses and hundreds of other staff will soon start wearing panic buttons at a Missouri hospital where assaults on workers have tripled after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic .

Cox Medical Center Branson is using grant money to add buttons to ID badges worn by up to 400 employees who work in emergency rooms and inpatient rooms. Pressing the button will immediately alert hospital security, launching a tracking system that will send help to the worker in danger. The hospital hopes the system will be operational by the end of the year.

A similar program was successfully tested last year at CoxHealth’s Springfield Hospital, spokeswoman Kaitlyn McConnell said on Tuesday.

Hospital data showed that the number of “security incidents” at Branson Hospital increased from 94 in 2019 to 162 in 2020. Assaults fell from 40 to 123 during the same period and injuries to healthcare workers went from 17 to 78. 2021 was not available.

The delta variant of the virus hit hard in southwest Missouri from June, leaving hospitals so full that many patients were sent to other facilities hundreds of kilometers away. Branson Hospital, the popular tourist town known for its many shows and attractions, has been at or near full capacity for four months.

CoxHealth Safety and Security Director Alan Butler said the panic buttons “fill a critical void.”

“Personal panic buttons are yet another tool in the battle to keep our staff safe and further demonstrate this organization’s commitment to maintaining a safe work and care environment,” Butler said in a statement.

The Missouri Hospital is not alone. The Texas Tribune reported earlier this month on the growing number of assaults in Texas hospitals, incidents that officials say are fueled by an increase in hospitalizations linked to COVID-19.

Jane McCurley, director of nursing for the Methodist Healthcare System in Texas, told a press conference in August that San Antonio hospital staff “were cursed, yelled at, threatened with bodily harm and even had knives pulled at them “.

Worldwide, a February report by Geneva-based Insecurity Insight and the University of California, Berkeley’s Human Rights Center identified over 1,100 threats or acts of violence against healthcare workers and healthcare facilities last year. Researchers found that around 400 of these attacks were linked to COVID-19, many of which were motivated by fear or frustration.

Assaults on healthcare workers have been a concern for years, said Dave Dillon, spokesman for the Missouri Hospital Association, but COVID-19 “has changed the dynamics in a number of ways.” Among them: The effort to slow the spread of the virus means loved ones often cannot accompany a sick person, increasing already high stress levels.

Jackie Gatz, vice president of safety and preparedness for the Missouri Hospital Association, said using an alert button is among many measures hospitals take to protect workers. Security cameras are added and some security personnel wear body cameras. CoxHealth added security dogs late last year in Springfield.

The Missouri Hospital Association also offers training to help workers protect themselves, including training on how to recognize and defuse when someone becomes agitated. Gatz said nurses and staff are also encouraged to stand between the hospital bed and the door.

“You can control your environment without necessarily placing physical barriers,” Gatz said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.



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