Austin,TX - A recent survey conducted by Austin-Travis County EMS (ATCEMS) revealed that personnel are experiencing high numbers of assaults. Over 86% of Communication staff report having been verbally assaulted more than once in the last two years and 63% of Field personnel report being assaulted more than once in the same time period. It is estimated that even these high numbers do not reflect the true magnitude of assaults on ATCEMS personnel because assaults are likely under-reported and only cases involving injuries are reported most commonly.
Most Field personnel said they were providing direct patient care when they were assaulted and that most assaults occurred in the back of the ambulance. The top three conditions that field personnel thought contributed to violence included an attacker showing signs of impairment, exhibiting aggressive behavior, or possibly experiencing a mental or behavioral health condition. In the communications center, personnel identified people exhibiting aggressive behavior, experiencing a highly emotional environment, or possibly experiencing a mental or behavior health condition as contributing factors to verbal assaults.
Although 100% of ATCEMS personnel receive situational awareness training, additional training in recognition of the potential for aggressive behavior, escape planning, threat avoidance, and de-escalation may be needed. Collaborative training with law enforcement officers and members of the legal system could improve reporting and prosecution of persons who assault EMS personnel. Equipping EMS Commanders with better training and tools for responding to personnel who report assaults could improve agency responsiveness, follow-up, engagement, and support when assaults happen. Personnel who are assaulted seem to be divided as to whether the department’s support mechanisms are adequate and effort needs to be aimed at learning what kind of support is needed, when it should be delivered, and what personnel need and expect.
Finally, an important finding of this survey is how EMS personnel perceive the workplace violence that they are experiencing. More than 69% of Field personnel agreed with a statement that said assaults are an unavoidable risk of an EMS career and 94% of Comm personnel said that verbal assaults while on duty in the communication center are an unavoidable risk. There needs to be further study about this cultural element, its drivers, and how it connects to industry ideals such as the “EMS Culture of Safety” and the EMS Agenda 2050 vision of being People Centered and its principle of becoming “Inherently Safe and Effective.” Ultimately, assaults on a public servant should never be tolerated, even by public servants.
The department recently trained a group of Improvement Leaders in improvement science. The training was based on the Model for Improvement established by the Institute of Healthcare Improvement (IHI). An improvement team will be assembled to continue work to reduce assaults on ATCEMS personnel and to begin to address the findings of this survey report. The team will focus on better reporting, enriched training, and work with law enforcement to learn more about recognition of potentially dangerous situations, de-escalation techniques, and other important strategies. Ultimately the team’s aim will be to reduce the number of assaults on ATCEMS personnel. Click here to read the survey results.
Please contact ATCEMS PIO at EMSPIO@austintexas.gov or 512-972-7272 with questions or to schedule an interview.