Violence: train for the moment to avert crisis

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Violence in the workplace is a much greater threat to your hospital than most practitioners realize, experts say.

Violence in the workplace is a much greater threat to your hospital thanmost practitioners realize, experts say.

Consider this: 80 percent of people over the age of 12 will be the victimsof a violent crime. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the violentcrime rate fell 15 percent and the property crime rate fell 10 percent from1999-2000. But, criminals now know veterinary hospitals have many drugsin stock, cash on hand and are not the most secure places.

Late night hours, access to drugs like ketamine and more women enteringthe profession are all trends that add to workplace risks for veterinariansand staff, says Dr. Roberta Dwyer, DVM, MS, dipl. ACVPM, of the Universityof Kentucky's Gluck Equine Research Center. Dwyer is also an advanced self-defenseinstructor.

Anywhere, any time

"Crime can happen at any time, anywhere," Dwyer says. "Youneed training, and if you ever have to deal with looking down the butt ofa gun, you are going to panic."

Dwyer has hosted seminars for veterinarians to instruct self-defensetechniques and strategies for dealing with violence in the workplace.

She says that veterinarians need to create a plan and train their staffson handling potentially violent situations, which could be a client or acriminal that walks through the door demanding cash or drugs.

While there aren't any reliable statistics on veterinary crime, Dwyeradds, the victims in the veterinary profession are out there.

"I have heard of everything from murder cases to sexual assaultsto robberies to domestic violence spilling into veterinary hospitals,"she says.

Dwyer recounts one case that ended in homicide. An irate husband brandishinga gun went to the wrong veterinary clinic looking for his wife. When a technicianwalked through the door, the man shot him.

Large animal dangers

When equine or food animal veterinarians are called out to farms duringthe night, potentially violent situations may develop.

"There may be homeless people in the stalls, or the owner may beseriously intoxicated. And you never know if it is a sleepy drunk or anaggressive drunk that you might have to deal with. What do you do then?"Dwyer asks.

Safeguards

Practitioners can definitely take steps to safeguard themselves and theirstaffs.

First, you need to train for the moment. Next, you need to take somepreventive steps for the entire hospital.

Talk to the community services division of your police department. Thepolice department can be an excellent resource and may even send someoneout to the hospital to review the lighting, entry points to the hospitaland security weaknesses, she says. If the police officer is trained in crimeprevention, they can address different scenarios for the entire staff.

Create a secure safe room within the hospital that people can quicklyget to and lock from the inside. (See Consider This box.) Of critical importanceis to install a telephone in this room to call police, she adds.

Take client behaviors very seriously, she says. The entire hospital staffshould be on alert for verbal threats or warnings, intimidation or harassment,attempts to gain access to unauthorized areas such as drug cabinets, abnormalor paranoid behavior, and any actions that indicate revenge or a deep-seatedgrudge.

Verbal threats should be taken very seriously.

"If a client says, 'I could just as well kill you as pay the bill,'" take heed, she adds.

Listen to your gut instinct. If the hair on the back or your neck standson end, be on alert, Dwyer advises.

"If something doesn't feel right, it probably isn't."

Prepare for battle

Dwyer says that creating a secret password to alert other staff membersof a potentially volatile situation has worked extremely well in practices.

"If you are running into trouble with a client, and you feel likea call for help is really going to escalate the situation, you may simplysay, 'Will you please call Mrs. Steel about her cat?' "

Dwyer says that an appointed person in the practice who is trained inintervention techniques could step in to help. A situation may deteriorateto the point of calling the police, and you could have a code word or phrasefor that as well.

Who is more at risk in the hospital?

"What I have heard from technician meetings is the client can begood as gold with the veterinarian, they walk out to pay the bill and theycan get extremely obnoxious," Dwyer says.

The person at the front desk in the hospital who has the closest accessto the money or drugs is the one at greatest risk, Dwyer adds.

For equine and food animal practitioners, most of the contact with clientsis face to face, and that always adds to the risk of dealing with a violentclient.

Lock and load?

Dwyer counsels against bringing firearms into the practice.

"My personal opinion on that is there should be a zero tolerancefor handguns and other deadly weapons in the workplace."

When a veterinarian comes in late at night to do an emergency, she hasheard stories of veterinarians bringing their guns too.

"I mean the gun is placed in the front desk drawer, and I ask 'Whathappens when the mom, dad and kids come in because the dog has been vomitingall night?' If a little kid gets his or her hand on a gun, it is a casefor disaster."

Over one-half of shooting accidents that involve police officers, involvetheir own gun. Dwyer adds that police officers are trained over and overagain on handling their weapon, and yet accidents still occur.

Dwyer adds that the veterinary hospital is loaded with other deadly weapons,and, with training, veterinarians and staff can be taught to defend themselvesin case of a violent encounter.

"Your car keys can be used as a deadly weapon, with the right training,"she says.

With preparation, veterinarians, technicians and staff can prepare fora violent encounter with crime, and, if it never happens, well, you simplyenter the lucky 20 percent of the population who has never been victimizedby a violent crime.

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