GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Vanessa Johnson enjoys her job as a nurse at Blodgett Hospital.
“I love coming to work,” said Johnson, who works in the hospital’s orthopedic unit. “I love taking care of people.”
Johnson joined Blodgett six years ago but says nowadays it has become difficult with her and her coworkers often the targets of verbal and physical attacks from the people they help and their families.
“We’ve put up signs that say, ‘Patients and visitors should wear your mask when staff comes into your room,’ and I’ve had patients, family members who will say, ‘I’m not doing that, you can’t tell me to put a mask on. I don’t believe this,’” said Johnson.
Johnson added, “It’s been really hard, at least for me personally. It’s made me question do I want to be a nurse?”
Violence and harassment against healthcare workers have jumped in recent years according to data provided by Spectrum Health.
Across the system’s 11 hospitals, employees called security 662 times in 2021, a 17 percent increase from the 564 calls made in 2020.
In 2019, healthcare workers reported 360 cases of harassment or violence. In 2018, 290 cases were filed. A spokeswoman says charges have been filed in some cases.
“Our team members are our most valuable, valuable resource that we have and every single on of those incidents reflect harm that is being done,” said Brian Brasser, Spectrum Health's chief operating officer.
According to officials, factors like pandemic policies and mental health challenges drove the spike, although there's not a singular reason.
To curb the assaults, Spectrum piloted a badge program at some of its locations late last year which allows staff to discretely call security to their exact location in tense situations.
The system also launched the “Be Kind” campaign. It aims to put a person behind the mask that people may initially see.
“We are doing everything we can to take care of every member of our community, whether that’s in the hospital setting, whether that’s in the office practice, whether that’s in the home, or done virtually or over the phone, it’s never acceptable,” said Brasser. “By exhibiting a really no tolerance policy for people who are acting out and also by making sure that we’re doing everything that we can to prevent situations from escalating.”
“I’m someone’s wife, I’m someone’s daughter," said Johnson. "I deserve to be treated like that too.”