Healthcare Workers to Patients: Please Remember Kindness
As we come up on the two-year anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic, nerves are fraying, stress levels are rising, and frustration is mounting everywhere. Healthcare workers say they often bear the brunt of people's anger, especially as the latest surge fills hospitals and doctors' offices once again.
Claude Stang, RN, is executive director of the Ruth and Harry Roman Emergency Department at Cedars-Sinai. He says he is seeing threatening behavior in the ER, especially as people wait for treatment. "Threats are made to the staff, in terms of, ‘I will call the media,’ ‘I will call the board of directors,’ ‘I will call the CEO,’ ‘I will sue you,’ ‘I want your full name,’ and some patients are even grabbing employees' badges," said Stang. "These kinds of behavior really threaten the healthy, therapeutic partnership we want to have with our patients and families from the get-go."
Sam Torbati, MD, co-chair and medical director of the Cedars-Sinai Emergency Department, says it's understandable that people are generally not at their best when they show up to the Emergency Department. But he says there is currently disproportionate anger around hospital and government rules regarding masking or strict visitation policies.
"We are trying our best to meet the needs of patients while also following safety guidelines," said Torbati. "Of course, we want people to have access to their families. But when COVID-19 regulations force changes in visitation policies, we can't have people yelling and getting aggressive with our staff. We need to reset the tone around civility."
Civility and kindness will make for a smoother partnership between patients and healthcare providers as we continue to focus on caring for our community in these trying times.
The Emergency Department is not the only place experiencing patient aggression. Caroline Goldzweig, MD, chief medical officer of the Cedars-Sinai Medical Network, says the same is happening at doctors' offices and urgent care facilities, and it is often connected to masking, visitor policies and wait times. "We are trying to create safe environments in our clinics and our hospitals, and we're trying to protect our own healthcare workers," said Goldzweig. "Our staff is just as tired as everyone else is, so we are asking patients to take a moment and be kind and respectful."
Jonathan Vickburg, associate director of Cedars-Sinai Community Health Improvement, and a licensed marriage and family therapist, says he's seeing the same high anxiety and stress at the community pop-up vaccination clinics. He says with each new surge the public's window of tolerance becomes smaller, but the healthcare professionals are undergoing a similar process where their level of tolerance is shrinking as well.
"It's truly this fight-or-flight response in our brain when we feel we are getting ready to be out of control and we're not thinking, just reacting," said Vickburg. He advises everyone who feels like they are “losing it” to stop, take a breath, calm down and realize this is happening internally in our bodies. Vickburg says healthcare workers should remember the anger from patients is not really directed at them. People are frustrated with the situation and taking it out on the person in charge. He suggests letting the patients know they are being heard, and acknowledging the challenges they are facing.
Torbati and Stang acknowledge the Emergency Department is often at capacity these days and the wait times can be long. However, Torbati says patients should be reassured they are going to get the best possible care, with the best resources and the best staff. He asks that people be more tolerant as COVID-19 protocols have made care more complex.
Stang also says patients should know the Emergency Department does an excellent job at triaging, and those patients who require immediate care will get care right away. "Civility and kindness will make for a smoother partnership between patients and healthcare providers as we continue to focus on caring for our community in these trying times."
Read more on the Cedars-Sinai Blog: Tips to Navigate a COVID-19 Infection in Your Household