We all know that working in hospitals, mental health and other health care facilities, we are exposed to violent patients, particularly those working in the emergency department and acute mental health wards. But, those of us working in aged care, we too face violence everyday in our work place.
Many people think that elderly people don’t have the strength or the know how to be violent. But, I assure you it is the opposite! Aged Care nurses put up with abuse (physical and verbal) everyday on every shift and we don’t have the luxury of a duress button or calling security. In fact, it is considered our job to put up with this abuse, we shrug our shoulders and then implement a plan of action to reduce this violence.
I remember when I was an RN on the floor working in an aged care facility. We had a very demented lady (Mrs L). Mrs L was a sweet lady (I’m sure before she was demented), but now hissed at everyone walking past, spat in your hair when you were putting on her shoes, and lashed out at you if you can near her.
One day, I was attending to the wound on her arm when she grabbed the keys from round my neck and attempted to choke me. Lucky for me, the physio aid was walking past and saw me trying to pull away without hurting this poor little old lady. My fear of hurting Mrs L nearly had me blue and breathless by her choking me. The physio aid released Mrs L’s grip from my keys and set me free. Of course I was OK, maybe a little sore around the neck from the burn the lanyard gave me (this was in the days before the lanyard pulled apart like the union ones). But, the saddest thing is, I just accepted that this was part of my job. I never once blamed Mrs L as she was demented and had no real idea of what she is doing, well not really anyway, and she acted out of pure fear.
Another horrid story is when I was 6 months pregnant with my first daughter. I was managing a facility and doing my usual meet and greet in the morning to all the residents after handover. I walked into a gentleman’s room, walked up to his bed to say good morning, gave him a glass of water when out of the blue as I was leaning over his bed to get the buzzer to give it to him, he punched me in the belly. This man was demented but had no history of violence previously. I got the fright of my life and once again shrugged it off as part of my day in the aged care setting.
I have probably 100 different stories like this about the abuse that I have copped over the years, the names I have been called, the amount of times I have been bitten, scratched, kicked and had cups and jugs of water thrown at me or my head by residents with a form of dementia. In fact one time I was thrown against a wall and pinned down by a very tall, large elderly man who was angry that he was put in a home. Despite these people being elderly they can really hurt and injure staff, and yet as a manager all you can do is put strategies in place so that the staff that might recognise and minimise the triggers, and ensure they are well informed, thus approaching things in a safer manner. But once again all staff can do is shrug their shoulders and take it as it is part of their job.
Many nurses complain that they get paid little money and have to put up with unfair conditions. However, the nurses I feel for the most are the ones in aged care. They get paid considerably less than hospital nurses and have to put up with this abuse every day, they can’t just call security and have the patient removed or complain to management and have the patient scheduled for violence. Dementia makes the sweetest person sometimes do horrible violent things and this is our job, to protect the demented from their selves and others, but what about protection for the staff? Unfortunately, we don’t get any, not even danger money for working in these conditions.
Yes, I know we can all choose another field to working in. But, if we all up and left because of this, then who will be left to look after these otherwise sweet elderly residents?
What are your stories of violence in the work place? Should we have to put up with violence – even in nursing homes?
I know you have some tories about violence in your work place because we have all experienced it at some stage or another, and please spare a thought for the hard working Aged Care nurses and support their cause.