By Deb Murphy
How can you tell the difference between frustration and rage? When do you call law enforcement and what can they do when they show up? How do you keep your own anger in check when you’re getting yelled at?
These are some of the questions the recently formed Workplace Violence Taskforce has begun to discuss and, hopefully, find some answers to.
Northern Inyo Hospital began the discussion last May. “If we’re working on these issues,” said Kelli Huntsinger, chief operation officer, “what are others doing?”
To find out, a letter went out to other entities, the County’s Health and Human Services Department, other health care facilities, law enforcement, the schools, the Chamber and business community.
Huntsinger’s goal was a pro-active approach that could eliminate or de-escalate potentially dangerous situations through education and coaching. “We wanted to be able to train our people to recognize potential danger and stop it before it even starts.”
The task force is open to the community. Huntsinger said she’s even heard from restaurants with questions about dealing with inappropriate behavior.
Part of the solution could be just making sure patients and their families understand standard hospital procedures. One area of frustration, Huntsinger said, was friends or family coming to pick up a patient’s medical records and finding out the hospital requires a signed note from the patient.
“We use past experiences as case studies,” she said. “We can discuss how to look for signs of escalation and what could have been differently.”
The County’s Emergency Services Director Kelley Williams joined the discussion, armed with a broad knowledge of training available to help. “The culture has changed,” she noted. Plus, hospital patients, people getting prescriptions filled, folks coming for or in need of HHS services probably aren’t having a good day to begin with.
“We have to be there for each other,” she said, running through a list of discussion topics: how to differentiate between normal and irritated, threat assessment, looking for signs of potential danger and choices available.
Bishop PD’s Chief Ted Stec comes to the discussions as a unique partner. “We respond to these situations,” he said. Law enforcement brings a lot to the table: when should a call go to the PD, what to do before the police arrive, what that response looks like.
Changes in law enforcement over the past 10 years provides help to lay people as well. According to Stec, use of force issues are analyzed differently. “We look at the entire event,” he said, “starting with dispatch and how the officer got out of his car. From a broader perspective, we see if we could have done a better job, did we make matters worse.”
In addition, police officers are trained to deal with people who need help and what level of help is appropriate.
In an era where them and us is too well defined, common courtesy is often on the back burner and we all seem to be scared of something, NIH’s task force is very timely.