You know how it goes: As soon as you enter a patient’s room, they start hurling items as well as expletives. You suffer both broken ego and broken self-confidence from their hurtful words—that you’re good for nothing and can’t get anything right. You know better than to believe them but still fall victim to their tirades and end up hurt and angry.
Verbal abuse can happen anywhere and in all kinds of workplaces, but healthcare takes the number one spot at almost eight cases of serious workplace violence for every 10,000 workers. Most incidents of workplace violence that occur in healthcare are verbal in nature.
In a study titled “Verbal and Physical Aggression Directed at Nursing Home Staff by Residents,” staff reported that 15.6% of nursing home residents became aggressive toward them, wherein almost half that percentage showed verbal aggression and nearly a third directed verbal and physical abuse. According to the study, the most commonly reported type of verbal abuse is screaming at certified nursing assistants.
This is the sad truth.
As a CNA, if you have experienced a similar situation in the past, how did it affect you? How did you handle the situation?
There are many accounts of CNAs being verbally abused. If you are one of them and unsure of what to do the next time, here are some points to think about:
1. Know your agency policies regarding abuse.
Review them so you know when patients cross the line. These policies include guidelines that direct the steps you need to take, so if worse comes to worst and the case escalates to legal action, you're on the safe side.
2. Know who is in charge of handling abuse.
Each agency will have an appointed officer, who may be a nurse manager or a supervisor. They are trained to handle abuse cases. Talk to them and ask for their help and guidance. They can also be your advocate and talk to patients on your behalf.
3. Keep calm and watch your words.
When you lose it in front of a patient, you give them the upper hand, and things can get ugly if you lose control. You'll likely lose focus, too, and jeopardize patient safety in the process, so never give in to retaliation.
4. When patients scream and curse, be firm that they need to stop the abusive behavior.
Approach the patient confidently and then set reasonable limits. You can offer them simple and clear choices together with the consequences. For example, “Please stop shouting. If you stop, I can assist you. If you don’t, I have to leave until you calm down.”
5. Politely but firmly ask them to be respectful.
Sometimes, all it takes to correct abusive behavior is to simply tell your patient to be more respectful. Tell the patient that you understand they are in a difficult situation and that being polite will let you help them better.
6. If the patient has calmed down, encourage them to talk.
Ask if something is bothering them or if they’re feeling anxious about something. You are not an expert in analyzing patient behaviors, but you can relay the patient’s information and get them help.
7. Continue providing excellent care.
It’s difficult to be kind and respectful to people who treat you badly, but it is a CNA’s sworn duty to do so. It is also a sign of maturity on your part.
8. If all else fails, call for help.
If the verbal abuse looks like it's leading to physical aggression, do not hesitate to call for backup or ask for security. Learn how to protect yourself.
Being a nursing assistant can expose you to verbal abuse because you are in close contact with the patient as you provide direct care. But that does not mean you are powerless to stop it. With the right mindset, attitude, and plan, you’ll be able to overcome!
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