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How To Maintain Staff Safety In Mental Health Settings


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Increasing patient and staff safety incidents are raising concerns among behavioral healthcare administrators. Staff safety in mental health settings is a current priority to introduce measures to reduce risks. However, with increased precedents of psychiatric emergencies, co-occurring mental illnesses in patients, and substance abuse combined with physical medical disorders, staffing needs are inadequate. As a result, psychiatric nurses are in demand with little success in meeting the numbers needed.

Administrators tend not to prioritize experienced psychiatric staff who recognize the safety risks to both patients and staff. Licensed therapists are also needed to attend to these large populations. Emergency room staff are not familiar with the needs of psychiatric patients and have become desensitized to the risks. Staff safety in mental health settings will ensure improved patient satisfaction.

The Unique Challenges of Staff Safety in Mental Health Settings

Healthcare consultants are called upon to do assessments of protocols in place that deal with patient and staff safety in mental health settings. High rates of patient incidents include suicide, self-harm, patients injuring other patients, and, finally, staff injuries by psychiatric patients. After reviewing their evaluations, consultants found that the lack of crucial psychiatric nursing staff is one key factor to resolve. In addition, educating emergency room staff to increase awareness and safety protocols when dealing with psychiatric patients will improve safety measures.

A 2016 American Psychiatric Nurse Association (APNA) survey proved insufficient psychiatric mental health registered nurses to meet demand. Their 2019 report, “Expanding Mental Health Care Services in America: The Pivotal Role of the Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurses,” revealed between 2014 and 2015, a 58% increase in job openings to fill these positions. In addition, there was also a 17% increase in demand for psychiatric Advanced Practice Registered Nurses. These statistics indicate the challenges to patient and staff safety in mental health settings began some time ago.

The importance of patient safety is also a primary concern for administrators. Psychiatric mental health nurses are challenging to recruit and maintain. However, their expertise with communication skills, compassion, and empathy for their fellow staff and patients addresses additional risks involved with a high psychiatric patient population. These insightful professionals can impact staff safety in mental health settings.

PMHN specialists understand and observe the behaviors of mentally ill patients and utilize their intuition to prevent dangerous situations. These nurses are keenly aware of the tone of voice, body language, and facial expression of the mentally ill patient to foresee and thwart possible adversity. Experienced psychiatric nurses can teach other staff these skills.

How to Maintain Staff Safety in Mental Health Settings

Professional consultants recommend implementing specific safety policies to maintain staff safety in mental health settings. Beyond safety policies, increased specialized staffing numbers will address the rising number of psychiatric patients to begin positive changes. Additional reviews of the facility and furnishings and equipment to ensure safety is another minimum requirement. Reviewing what incorporates a specialized psychiatric team will offer a guideline for new staffing requirements.

A top priority is implementing specialized team staffing requirements for the psychiatric patient population, with safety as the primary objective. Assignment of specialized support personnel for emergency room staff unfamiliar with handling severe psychiatric patients as a liaison can improve care flows. Psychiatric Mental Health Nurses are vital factors in maintaining patient safety. Offering incentives for recruiting specialized nursing staff to maintain high levels of staff safety in mental health settings may draw in the needed support.

Recommended protocols to maintain staff safety

The most highly recommended measures that an organization can take to ensure staff safety include the following:

  • Use checklists for each shift in rounding efforts to communicate possible deficiencies and be proactive in preventing undesirable conditions. For example, the index for safety rounding includes bathrooms, hallways, and all common areas where patients could be present. Prioritizing issues will be helpful for the assignment of tasks.
  • Provide structured clinical activities for patients, including individual and group therapy sessions, patient educational opportunities, and insightful modifications by specialized nursing staff to determine individual needs and problems.
  • Schedule monthly (at least) unannounced executive staff visits by senior behavioral health leadership to observe the recommended changes. Visits would follow patient management procedures, engage staff for relevant input, and meet for additional policy reviews and improvement recommendations.
  • Solicit staff input by initiating daily reports of safety issues found by staff. Offer incentives for reporting risks encountered by the team and share with the administration to implement quick fixes.
  • Track and share safety trend reports with all staff to continue engaging staff involvement with ensuring safety. Offer additional information for continued improvement through articles and recommendations by regulating agencies. Showing a deep concern for staff safety nurtures cooperation and pride in the workplace.

Find Help with Staff Safety with Bloom Consulting in Florida

Is your healthcare administration seeking support in improving staff safety in mental health settings? Bloom Consulting in Florida can review your needs and recommend new safety measures and protocols. We are determined to meet the needs of our clients, so contact us today.