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Missouri Hospital Giving Nurses Panic Buttons After Number of Assaults by Patients Triple

People logo People 10/1/2021 Julie Mazziotta
Courtesy Cox Medical Center Branson A nurse at Cox Medical Center with a panic button © Provided by People Courtesy Cox Medical Center Branson A nurse at Cox Medical Center with a panic button

Nurses and hospital staff at a Missouri hospital will now wear panic buttons on their badges due to a stark increase in assaults by patients.

Cox Medical Center in Branson said that hospital staff reported 123 assaults by patients in 2020, a three-fold increase from the year before, when there were 40. The number of injuries from the attacks also increased, from 17 to 78.

"In the emergency department … our patients are becoming increasingly violent lately," nurse Ashley Blevins, who said she's been spit on, cussed out and in a few cases beaten by patients in the last year, told KYTV.

The increase in assaults is likely related to patients getting irritated with the longer wait times at the hospital and restrictions on who can visit due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Blevins said.

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"They come in here and they have to sit in here because everywhere's full, we have no placements to put anybody and that's frustrating on the patient that's frustrating on us and I think that's increasing a lot of violence towards everyone," said Blevins.

A nurse at Cox Medical Center with a panic button © Courtesy Cox Medical Center Branson A nurse at Cox Medical Center with a panic button

The significant increase in attacks pushed them to add the panic button system, Brandei Clifton, the hospital's communications manager, told NPR.

"That kind of raised a red flag that we need to get some extra protection in place," Clifton said of the increase in attacks. "Until these buttons are implemented, right now, a nurse either has to call security on her phone or scream for help, and so this is an extra easy way they can get immediate response."

Around 300 to 400 hospital staff will have the panic buttons on their badges, and if pressed it alerts security, sets off a light outside the room and alerts hospital computers that someone needs help. It also has a tracing system to pinpoint the staffer's location.

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Nurses are "really grateful" for the new system, Clifton said, and they expect it to be fully functioning by the end of the year. A grant of $132,000 from a local charity made it possible.  

"It's nice we have the chance to press our button and security knows exactly where we are, and if we end up having to chase a patient down they'll know where our last location is," Blevins told KYTV.

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A study published in August found that nurses who were treating COVID-19 patients experienced "significantly more" physical and verbal abuse than those who with other types of patients. More than 51% of nurses with COVID-19 patients dealt with physical abuse compared to 30.1% of others, and 73% said they were verbally abused, compared to 56.1%.

Another hospital in the system, Cox Springfield, added a panic button system last year and said it helped their security team lower their response time. Clifton said they hope more nurses will report assaults once they have the panic button — "we want nurses to report everything," she said.

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