May 4, 2023

Workplace violence policies apply to all employees, patients

As aggressive behavior toward health care providers is on the rise nationally, Vanderbilt’s Workplace Violence Prevention Committee has recently developed stronger policies to help protect employees.


by Matt Batcheldor

Aggressive behavior toward health care providers is on the rise nationally, and Vanderbilt University Medical Center is reminding employees and patients there is zero tolerance for workplace violence.

The VUMC Workplace Violence Prevention Committee has recently developed stronger policies to help protect employees. The effort is strongly supported by VUMC’s senior leadership. The committee wants to equip all employees with tools to prevent, respond to and report incidents of workplace violence. Updated information is now available at

At VUMC, workplace violence is defined as conduct or comments that are inappropriate, demeaning or otherwise offensive and create an uncomfortable, hostile and/or intimidating environment. Harassment doesn’t have to be physical.

Examples of such behavior include but are not limited to the following: bullying, stalking, threats, intimidation, physical attack, property damage, or domestic and family violence. This includes acts of violence committed by or against workforce members, patients, learners and/or visitors.

Health care workers are now five times more likely to encounter workplace violence than those in other professions according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“We do not tolerate aggressive behavior toward any member of our workforce in any form,” said C. Wright Pinson, MBA, MD, Deputy CEO and Chief Health System Officer. “It can happen anywhere and anytime, so we want everyone throughout the enterprise to be prepared, use de-escalation tips and know where to get support.”

Workplace violence has historically been underreported because health care workers have tolerated it as just part of the job, in a culture where “the patient is always right,” said Corrie Berry, MMHC, RN, who co-chairs the workplace violence prevention subcommittee for Vanderbilt Adult Ambulatory Clinics. However, VUMC’s Workplace Violence Prevention Committee is working to assure workers that such violence is not acceptable and should be reported and addressed, whether it is a minor or major incident.

“We want our employees to feel comfortable talking to their manager and reporting those issues,” Berry said. “As a system, we want to address each incident, so patients know that if they seek care here that they have to treat our employees with respect.”

Employees should not hesitate to report any incidence of violence immediately when it occurs using this procedure:

  • Utilize de-escalation tactics when possible.
  • Remove yourself from the situation if safe to do so.
  • Notify leadership (AC/manager/- CSL-RSL/attending).
  • Call VUPD, if needed, at (615) 322-2745. (Please contact your local police department if you are at an off-site clinic or regional hospital.)
  • Document the incident in VERITAS.
  • Follow the procedures outlined in the Standard Operating Procedure for your entity. More information is available at

Berry noted that de-escalation training is now a part of VUMC’s annual compliance process, and everyone is encouraged to review the training in the VUMC Learning Exchange. “If de-escalation is successful, then we may not need to contact law enforcement during an incident of workplace violence,” she said. “But if a patient is persistently aggressive or threatening or at any point a staff member feels unsafe, we encourage them to reach out to law enforcement immediately.”

Better reporting will help VUMC identify patterns of violence and allow the Medical Center to design preventative measures, better support employees and allow VUMC to direct resources to areas where violence is occurring.

Thus far, several incidents of reported violence in the last year have resulted in arrests and charges of assault.

Plans for how to respond to such incidents for both employees and leaders, and much more, are available at Specific prevention, response and support resources are available for entities including Vanderbilt University Hospital, Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt, Vanderbilt Adult Ambulatory Clinics and Vanderbilt Psychiatric Hospital.

The commitment to preventing workplace violence extends to Vanderbilt Patient Relations and other entities as well.

Resources to support employees affected by violence are also listed, including Work/Life Connections-EAP (Employee Assistance Program) and the SHARE Center (Sexual Harassment: Awareness, Response and Education).

“Our Workplace Violence Prevention Committee has been committed to creating tactics to respond to aggressive behaviors,” said Kate Burger, MSN, RN, NE-BC, senior associate in Nursing for Medicine/ED/Oncology.

“However, much of our work has been centered around being proactive and looking for ways to help staff recover from an event. We have partnered with our unit leaders as well as our colleagues in EAP to provide a wealth of resources and support when the staff member needs it.”

New posters have been placed throughout VUMC stating that violence is unacceptable.

“A trained response is a quick response,” said Beth Sparks, MSN, RN, CNML, who co-chairs the adult clinics’ workplace violence prevention subcommittee.

“We encourage all team members to talk to their team members and leaders about reviewing workplace violence prevention strategies for their areas.”