The emergency room can be a pretty hectic place, even under the best of circumstances. So imagine how much worse it gets as the economy sputters, people start having shorter fuses and less patience, and domestic abuse and alcoholism concerns rise. Not for patients, but for those who provide them with their health care.

In this case, the harm is coming to emergency room (ER) nurses, who have to deal not only with the typical patients who may be present at a hospital’s ER, but also a lot more patients who may have a tendency to ignore appropriate boundaries, especially when it comes to physical touch.

Emergency room nurse Erin Riley suffered bruises, scratches and a chipped tooth last year from trying to pull the clamped jaws of a psychotic patient off the hand of a doctor at a suburban Cleveland hospital.

A second assault just months later was even more upsetting: She had just finished cutting the shirt off a drunken patient and was helping him into his hospital gown when he groped her. […]

Violence against nurses and other medical professionals appears to be increasing around the country as the number of drug addicts, alcoholics and psychiatric patients showing up at emergency rooms climbs.

Now, nearly every ER sees these kinds of patients all the time. But what seems to be changing are two things — the quantity of cases that come in on a daily basis, and the staff and supporting resources to deal with the most problematic cases.

As regular readers of World of Psychology, there is little evidence that psychiatric patients are more violent than any one of us (unless alcohol or an illegal substance is involved). But without the supporting resources — social works, psychiatrists, and therapists — in place in the hospital and on-call 24/7, psychiatric patients may indeed present more challenges for staff who are used to dealing with primarily physical concerns, not mental health ones.

No health care professional should ever be subjected to a workplace that tolerates physical or sexual abuse. Hospitals should expend the necessary resources to ensure their staff can work in safety, and the government should of course support such expenditures (since many ER patients aren’t covered under traditional health insurance plans, their bills are ultimately paid for by the government).

In the short-term, there are no easy answers while our economy continues to suffer. Everyone is cutting costs, hospitals included. This sort of article suggests that such cost cutting has very real implications for some professionals’ safety in their workplace. And if it can happen to staff, it can happen to anyone in the ER, other patients included. Hospitals need to step up in whatever ways possible to protect their staff and ensure they have a safe work environment.

Read the full news article: Nurses fear even more ER assaults as programs cut