Nurses Demand: The Violence Must Stop

Doris Carroll, BSN


September 13, 2017

Nurses Rally to Stamp Out Violence

Nurses organized a rally in St Charles, Illinois, on Friday, August 11, to stop the violence they face on a daily basis. Nurses demand that employers enforce zero tolerance for violence in all healthcare settings. Nurses want legislation to protect them and prosecute offenders. The theme was #STAMP, which stands for "Stop Assaults on Medical Providers."

Figure 1. #STAMP Rally, August 11, 2017, St Charles, Illinois. Image courtesy of Amy Fawkes

Nurses asked firefighters, emergency medical service providers, teachers, union leaders, nursing leaders, and legislators to stand behind them, and they came. The rally was held to raise public awareness of the horrific violence that occurred against nurses who were taken hostage, tortured at gunpoint, and raped at Delnor Hospital in Geneva, Illinois.

Figure 2. Nurses were appalled that the public was told the Delnor nurses were "unharmed." Image courtesy of Amy Fawkes

Workplace Safety: A Nurse's Right

Nurses advocate for their patients first, and sometimes put themselves last. On August 11, that changed. The Show Me Your Stethoscope (SMYS) organization, the Illinois Nurses Association (INA), and the Silent No More Foundation partnered for one purpose: to stop violence against nurses. Janie Garner, RN, the SMYS executive director, told nurses, "Do not martyr yourself to nursing"—a statement that echoed throughout the rally.

Figure 3. Janie Garner addresses the crowd. Image courtesy of Amy Fawkes

Alice Johnson, the INA executive director, spoke about what nurses really want, quoting John Steinbeck: "People think they want money or power. But that's not it. They want to know that their lives matter. Having a little bit of control over their own lives—that's what matters." Johnson led nurses in the chant, "Workplace safety is a human right. Workplace safety is a nurse's right. Nurses unite!"

Figure 4. Alice Johnson leads the crowd in chanting, "Workplace safety is a nurse's right." Image courtesy of Amy Fawkes

Many rally participants were moved to tears when the brother of one of the Delnor nurses decided to speak. He said, "The reason my sister wakes up every day is because of you," pointing to the crowd of nurses before him and thanking them.

Standing With Nurses

Legislators exclaimed that they had been unaware of the scope of the violence that nurses endure. Illinois state representative Margo McDermed (R, 37th) was emphatic. "Stand up for yourselves. Demand justice. Demand safety. Nurses should lead the discussion. You be the leaders. But we can't solve the problem without everyone being at the table."

Illinois state senator Jim Oberweiss (R, 25th), whose daughter is a nurse practitioner at Delnor hospital, expressed shock. "Most of us in the legislature aren't seriously aware of this problem. This shouldn't be a Republican or a Democrat issue, but a bipartisan issue."

Jim Leslie—a firefighter and Democratic candidate for the 50th Illinois State House District whose mother, sister, and wife are nurses—had such memorable words that many attendees again had to fight back tears as he said, "Vote your job. Nothing else matters."

Figure 5. Firefighter Jim Leslie's words brought tears to the eyes of many in the audience. Image courtesy of Amy Fawkes

Matt Olson, firefighter and vice president of the Associated Firefighters of Illinois, encouraged nurses to "Get to where we are. Workplace safety is paramount for us.... And it's not because of any altruistic vision from the fire department services. It's because we beat on their doors."

Illinois AFL-CIO secretary treasurer Tim Drea appreciated the bipartisan efforts and called upon all to work with nurses, pledging AFL-CIO support to pass legislation.

Figure 6. Rally attendees listen to Arnoldo Fabela, Director of Field Mobilization, Illinois Federation of Teachers. Image courtesy of Amy Fawkes

Silent No More

The founder of Silent No More, Angela Simpson, RN, from Maryland told the crowd, "Something inside me snapped. Enough is enough. We can't have this happen anymore." The events at Delnor Hospital led her to form a social media group, Healthcare Workers Protection Act, whose members are committed to raising public awareness and writing legislation to protect nurses.

Figure 7. Founder of Silent No More, Angela Simpson, RN, speaks at the rally. Image courtesy of Amy Fawkes

Ron Hain, police officer and 2018 Democratic candidate for Kane County sheriff, told nurses, "You have my commitment that you will have a proper threat assessment. I will have your voice. You are my family, and I thank you for all you do."

Pam Robbins, former INA president, who teaches healthcare policy to graduate student nurses, said, "No one thinks about going to work and fearing for their lives." At the crux of the violence "is the underlying issue of safe staffing." Her advice is that "Nurses are the best consultants for legislators."

Figure 8. Nurses are fed up with unsafe working conditions. Image courtesy of Amy Fawkes

Laws to Protect Nurses Desperately Needed

Protecting nurses, who are the most trusted profession, is what legislators promised. And they agreed to start researching and writing legislation that same afternoon, contacting Doris Carroll, RN, vice president of the INA and the Illinois AFL-CIO, organizer of SMYS, #STAMP co-organizer, and event emcee.

Figure 9. Rally organizer and emcee Doris Carroll. Image courtesy of Amy Fawkes

Illinois state representative Stephanie Kifowit (D, 84th) said, "You should feel safe and secure...we will get the laws passed." Illinois state representative Keith Wheeler (R, 50th) confirmed this, saying, "We can actually do better if we all work together. There has to be an organizational culture that has a zero tolerance to violence. We need to send a message loud and clear: If you attack a nurse in Illinois, you will face consequences that will deter you from doing it again. I give you my assurance that I will stand arm-in-arm with you to fight against these atrocities."

Legislation is being written in the state of Illinois, and public hearings will be held in the near future.

Figure 10. Nurses and their professional colleagues attended the rally to protest violence against all healthcare providers. Image courtesy of Amy Fawkes

The event was held at the Kane County Judicial Center in St Charles, Illinois, and was sponsored by SMYS (a grassroots nursing organization), the INA, the Silent No More Foundation, the Chicago chapter of the National Black Nurses Association, the Philippine Nurses Association of Illinois, Emerald Staffing, and the Associated Firefighters of Illinois.


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