Violence in medicine is a fact that many professionals in the field are painfully aware exists, but don't openly discuss, according to Kip Teitsort, founder of a company that specializes in training health-care providers to recognize potentially dangerous situations and how to escape violent encounters.
Violence in medicine is a fact that many professionals in the field are painfully aware exists, but don’t openly discuss, according to Kip Teitsort, founder of a company that specializes in training health-care providers to recognize potentially dangerous situations and how to escape violent encounters.
“It’s a very dangerous profession. Violence in medicine is swept under the rug. We’ve got to shed light on the dirty little secret of violence in medicine,” said Teitsort, who spent 25 years in the emergency medical service (EMS) in one form or fashion. “What the average person doesn’t realize is that the leading cause of injury to a paramedic, nurse, an EMT or firefighter on the medical scene is actually violence. Not needle sticks, not being run over by a car, it’s being attacked by a violent individual.”
Teitsort, who established DT4EMS in 1996, winces when the term “patient” is used to describe who is turning violent when EMS personnel arrive.
“If you look at a textbook definition, a patient is someone that is wanting your help,” he said. “What we find is that the people who are attacking paramedics, EMTs and nurses are somebody we shouldn’t be calling a patient. It’s usually a drunk or drugged individual that is attacking them. Not a normal person we would consider a patient.”
Violence can come from other sources, according to John Nemes, chief of the Marion & Ralls County Ambulance Districts, which hosted Teitsort’s week-long training session.
“We’ve seen it many times, the attacker is not always the patient. It could be a disgruntled spouse, an angry gang member. We’ve had instances where bystanders were the aggressor, not the patient,” he said.
What especially rankles Teitsort is when he hears of a health-care provider who has fallen victim to violence and has been discouraged from reporting the crime.
“I’ve talked with people who were punched in the face by people who were drunk or high and were told by their employers they couldn’t press charges and there was nothing they could do because that person was a patient,” he said. “If you spit, punch, kick, slap a cop if you’re drunk or high, you’d go to jail. But you’re telling that paramedic, who is on the exact same (protection) law as policemen, that you can’t press charges. You’re violating people’s rights in different areas.”
Physical violence is not the only threat some health-care providers face.
“Why is it a female paramedic can be grabbed inappropriately, sexually assaulted on the job by a drunk individual grabbing her breast, grabbing her on the buttocks, telling her the thing he wants to do sexually, and the employer makes the employee believe they’re not supposed to talk about that? That’s sexual assault. That’s criminal,” said Teitsort.
“We’re saying that’s not acceptable. We’re saying if at any point and time you’re safety is placed in peril you have the right to back away. You call and let the police handle it, taking custody of someone, and then you offer your care,” he added.
As he travels the country, teaching skills that are potentially life-saving, Teitsort hopes to raise awareness.
“We’re making a difference, but it’s still such a dirty, little secret. Most people don’t want to talk about it. They think if they ignore it they don’t have to address it,” he said.
Teitsort’s program blends commonsense prevention with hands-on defensive techniques.
“The only reason we show them (defensive) techniques is because we know sometimes they are attacked by surprise. What we have found across the country is the more people use our (safety awareness) tactics, they never need our (defensive) techniques,” he said.
Among those who have embraced Teitsort’s techniques are the local ambulance districts.
“Patient safety is always our No. 1 concern, with our employee safety a very, very close second. We’re going to do everything we can to give our employees the tools to protect themselves from a violent situation,” said Nemes, adding that Teitsort’s curriculum will be mandatory for all the districts’ employees starting in 2016.
“Here at Marion County they have been very proactive,” said Teitsort. “Their guys first became instructors two years ago.”
Reach reporter Danny Henley at firstname.lastname@example.org