Whistle for safety

By: Debbie Moore-Black, RN

I finally found time after my retirement, to clean out my nurse book bag.
Stethoscope. Extra Playing cards for patients, highlighters, various pens, penlight, a notebook of important phone numbers throughout the system, tourniquets for IV’s. And a plastic whistle.

This is a $5+ Billion/year revenue at this healthcare system that sprawls throughout America…Let me explain.

This specific Behavioral Health unit carried the highest of acuities. Paranoid schizophrenia, bipolar, psychotic, delusional, paranoid, adding to this mix: a semi-vacation for some in prison. Prisoners who feigned suicidal ideations to gain entrance to our unit. A pillow case wrapped around their neck would get them into our unit. Speaking out loud to the “voices” and Worse case scenario, smearing their feces on the wall…. Would give these prisoners with these gestures a 2 week stay at our Behavioral Health. More like a hotel than their prison. These prisoners carried titles of murderers, rapists, kidnappers, domestic violence….and they all came to us.

We had a mandatory class to attend each year to protect ourselves. CPI. Crisis Prevention Institute. This training/exercise was to help the staff in deescalation skills and to help us manage patients through specific maneuvers also preventing potential assault from the patients. Although the exercise we practiced yearly, you pretty much had to be a pro at this to be ready and aware at any time especially during random acts of assault.

We registered our fears and our complaints to upper management asking frequently for security guards to be on our unit 24/7 for not only safety of staff but for the safety of patients also.

Instead, we were all handed a plastic whistle to carry in our pocket should we be attacked by a patient.
A plastic whistle.
Not an electronic gadget that you could press easily in your pocket, but a plastic whistle that you would have to pull out of your pocket and blow… hopefully before the patient attacked you.
The 24/7 Security guards were denied for us.
Not in the budget.

So we climbed the email hierarchy ladder and beyond an email to our manager and all ANM’s (Assistant Nurse Manager), we added our CEO. Not just requesting 24/7 Security guards to our unit.
But begging.

The CEO never replied.
Our manager verbally reprimanded those that added the CEO to the emails stating that he was not considered part of our chain of command.

And so instead, staff and patients alike were getting physically assaulted, spit upon, attempted strangulation, beaten over the head, a fist to the face…. The list is long.

I knew that it was time to exit when the truth was at any given time, a patient could snap my neck at one random gesture.

Since I had already been physically attacked twice on that unit, for my own safety I soon retired.

Because I knew management, and the CEO really didn’t care about our safety.
This $5+ billion/year revenue in this hospital system.

And I knew this plastic whistle would never save my life.