Sparks appointed to AAACN Workplace Safety Task ForceJan. 19, 2023, 9:40 AM
by Matt Batcheldor
The American Academy of Ambulatory Care Nursing (AAACN) Board of Directors has appointed Beth Sparks, MSN, RN, CNML, as co-chair of its Workplace Safety Task Force.
Sparks, administrative director in the VUMC Adult Walk-In Clinics, was chosen for her leadership abilities and continued dedication to workplace violence prevention work. She has been actively involved with such initiatives at VUMC since 2014 and has been co-chair of the Vanderbilt Medical Group (VMG) Workplace Violence Prevention committee since 2021.
Sparks, along with other members of the AAACN task force, is charged with developing tools to address workplace violence prevention and response that will be disseminated for use by ambulatory nursing leaders nationwide within the year. They meet twice monthly, and Sparks is hopeful they will have some initial resources available for use within the next six months.
“There is a timely need for these resources,” Sparks said. “Vanderbilt is probably a little bit ahead of the game when it comes to workplace violence prevention efforts. I hope to share those, but more importantly, I look forward to bringing best practices surrounding prevention and response to events of workplace violence back to Vanderbilt.”
During the COVID -19 pandemic, Sparks, who oversees nursing in the VMG and Vanderbilt Health and Williamson Medical Center Walk-in Clinics, helped create the VMG Workplace Violence Prevention Committee alongside co-chair Corrie Berry, administrative director in the Surgery PCC. When COVID first hit, health care workers were hailed as heroes. But as the pandemic wore on into its second year, incidents of violent physical or verbal behavior by patients and visitors toward staff and providers increased as surging patient volumes in the walk-in clinics led to increased wait times for patients, and thus, increased frustrations.
“There was a lot of fear in the early days of COVID,” Sparks said. “Patients were scared. They didn’t know whether they had COVID, and if they did, whether they were going to survive. There were so many emotions that were running high. Patients were being very hostile to front desk workers, providers and nursing staff. We wanted to support our staff that were growing weary of working long hours and handling elevated patient volumes, all the while, dealing with an increase in aggressive behavior towards them.”
The VMG Workplace Violence Prevention Committee surveyed staff members to assess their perceptions of safety, what resources they were aware of and when and what they felt they were supposed to report.
Sparks said workplace violence has historically been under-reported because, to a certain degree, health care workers have worked in a culture of tolerance. However, the committee is working to assure ambulatory care workers that such violence is not acceptable and should be reported.
“From that survey, we learned a lot about the needs in our clinics,” she said. The survey revealed behaviors as well as physical and environmental needs — even as simple as a door that doesn’t shut well.”
The committee put together safety action plan templates for leaders to customize for their work areas. These outline what to do in a workplace violence situation and how to report it, as well as response and actions to take following the violent behavior.
In addition, new posters have been placed throughout VUMC, stating that violence is unacceptable.
Employees have also been made aware of VUMC’s internal resources, including Work/Life Connections-EAP (the Employee Assistance Program) and the SHARE Center (Sexual Harassment: Awareness, Response and Education).
“We are in a different place now than we were a year and a half ago in terms of being better prepared,” she said. “I think everyone now understands Vanderbilt’s zero-tolerance stance on workplace violence, which comes from senior leadership down.”
On the AAACN Workplace Safety Task Force, Sparks is now positioned to share what Vanderbilt has learned.
“Beth exemplifies the creativity and resolute determination needed to devise and implement new tactics to keep health care workers safe from harm,” said Chad Fitzgerald, JD, Senior Vice President of Health System Emergency Operations and chair of the VUMC Workplace Violence Committee.
“Workplace violence is a national epidemic, and I have no doubt Beth will lead on this national stage with the same tenacity as she has shown here at VUMC,” he said.
“I’m so pleased with Beth’s appointment to the AAACN taskforce,” said Michele Hasselblad, DNP, RN, NE-BC, vice president of Adult Ambulatory Nursing. “It was a competitive process, and Beth was selected for her expertise and passion for preventing violence in the health care setting. I have no doubt this will be an enriching experience for Beth as she shares our learning and collaborates with colleagues nationally.”
For more information on VUMC’s workplace violence program across all areas of the health system, please visit https://www.vumc.org/saysomething/what-workplace-violence.