Workers at Missouri hospital to wear panic buttons as assaults rise

Health care workers at a Missouri hospital will wear “personal panic buttons” as violence has sharply increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. Cox Medical Center Branson said hundreds of employees will be equipped with the extra layer of protection in response to an alarming increase in assaults and injuries.

From 2019 to 2020, patient assaults on employees more than tripled, from 40 to 123 while injuries increased from 17 to 78 at the hospital in southwest Missouri. The hospital said the pandemic is “greatly compounding the issue.” Ashley Blevins, a nurse at Cox Medical Center Branson, told KYTV that employees have endured spitting, cussing and assaults.

”They come in here and they have to sit in here because everywhere is full,” Blevins told the news outlet. “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.”
COVID-19 cases and deaths surged in southwest Missouri over summer as the delta variant spread. In Taney County, where Cox Medical Center Branson is located, about 36% of eligible residents are vaccinated.

Even before the pandemic, health care workers experienced higher levels of violence. Between 2002 and 2013, hospital, nursing home and other health care workers were four times more likely than those in the private industry to experience serious workplace violence, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

About 300 to 400 employees in the emergency department and in-patient hospital rooms will wear personal panic buttons on their badges. If employees need help, they’ll press the button to alert the hospital security system and their location will be tracked.

“When Public Safety response is critical and it’s not possible to get to a phone, personal panic buttons fill a critical void,” Public Safety and Security System Director Alan Butler said in a news release. “Personal Panic Buttons are one more tool in the battle to keep our staff safe and further demonstrate this organization’s commitment to maintaining a safe work and care environment.” The new panic button system will be implemented by the end of the year with help from a $132,000 grant by the Skaggs Foundation, a philanthropic organization funding health initiatives in the area.