San Diego Health - Spring 2024


San Diego’s Hospital Violence Task Force Since its first meeting last year, the San Diego Hospital Violence Task Force has continued to add new members from health care, law enforcement and the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office. The first two meetings were sobering, as health care staff and physicians shared stories of violence committed against them and those they work with. Now, a year later, there is better communication and policy alignment, regular site visits to hospitals by law enforcement, improved training and a renewed focus on prosecuting violent crimes against doctors, nurses and other health care workers. “I wanted to get law enforcement and health care leaders regularly talking with each other about these issues so there would be a better understanding on all sides,” says Chris Van Gorder, president and CEO of Scripps Health. “That’s the first step toward any solution, and we’re all committed to that purpose.” As violence in health care continues to rise across the country, the San Diego task force is becoming a model for other communities. “Without safety, nothing thrives,” says San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan, who started the group along with Van Gorder. “Reducing the threats and violence and preventing potential crimes that put health care workers in danger is critical to making our health system the best that it can be. This task force is already a positive step in that direction.”

“Demeaning comments, verbal abuse and assaults now happen in all areas of hospitals and clinics. Physicians, nurses and other health care professionals are concerned and frightened.”

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was the catalyst behind San Diego’s new Hospital Violence Task Force, a group that includes senior representatives from local hospitals and health systems, law enforcement agencies and the San Diego County District Attorney’s O ffi ce (see sidebar). “ Th e task force is already making a di ff erence,” says Ghazala Sharie ff , MD, MBA, chief medical and operations o ffi cer for acute care, Scripps Health. “Group discussions have led to a better understanding of the issues on all sides, as well as law enforcement and DA visits with hospital sta ff , procedural changes and better connections between hospital security sta ff and law enforcement.” LET’S BE CAREFUL OUT THERE In the 1980s television series Hill Street Blues , a tough but caring police desk sergeant ended each morning’s brie fi ng with prudent advice for his o ffi cers: “Let’s be careful out there,” he’d say. It’s much the same for health care workers today. While security can continuously be enhanced, the fi rst defense against violence is prevention. Scripps’ de-escalation training helps sta ff recognize tense situations, set proper boundaries and maintain control of di ffi cult circumstances. Likewise, tools like electronic patient records o ff er ways for caregivers to silently alert other sta ff to potentially di ffi cult situations.

“If, despite these e ff orts, a person does become violent or threatening, our security teams quickly respond,” says Todd Walbridge, senior director of Scripps Health safety and security, and a former FBI agent. “In addition, we’ve created quick-response behavioral health teams, implemented high-tech metal detection where needed, limited building and elevator access and updated our camera monitoring systems. “We also work closely with local and regional law enforcement to align our processes and procedures when it comes to violent or potentially violent patients,” adds Walbridge. “We do whatever is possible to ensure the safety of our sta ff , patients and visitors without negatively impacting access to the care people need.” BE KIND Sometimes those e ff orts include reminding patients and visitors that they’re in a place of healing. “We recognize that some patients struggle with behavioral or addiction issues, but they account for just a fraction of violent incidents we see,” says Grossmann. “When someone is sick or hurting or scared, that’s a bad place to be and we’re going to help,” she says. “But there are often lots of other patients we’re helping, too. “I promise we’re doing our best. Please, be kind.”


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