Violence in the nation's emergency rooms is on the rise, according to the Emergency Nurses Association, and the public needs to know what's happening.

A recent study by the ENA showed that 86 percent of all ER nurses who responded to the survey had some form of violence committed against them while on duty over the past three years.

"Those are astronomical numbers," said ENA president Donna Mason, who is in Salt Lake City this week for the group's annual conference.

The abuse includes nurses being punched, kicked and verbally abused.

In 2005, the Massachusetts Bureau of Labor Statistics reported more than 4,000 hospital employees had been assaulted while working in the ER. Another survey that year of ER doctors in Michigan revealed 28 percent had been physically assaulted, while 75 percent were verbally assaulted.

On the blog Web page last month, an ER nurse recounts how she was assaulted by a patient who reached over her desk, grabbed her by the throat, choked and punched her.

Mason knows of one ER nurse who was pregnant and lost her baby after she was kicked in the stomach by an angry patient.

"The worst could always happen because we always see the worst that happens," she said. "The public needs to know this is not OK. You would never kick a cop or a firefighter for putting out a fire. Nursing is a very trusted profession. We want to take care of people."

Those who are committing violence in emergency rooms are not typically gang members who are brought to the hospital after a violent confrontation with a rival gang and are looking for payback, Mason said. Rather, it's citizens who are sometimes intoxicated, and many times upset with having to sit for hours in the waiting room.

The public perception is patients will go to the ER and be out in one to two hours, Mason said. In reality, a stay at the ER averages four to six hours, she said. Utah has the highest average patient time spent in the emergency room at 6.35 hours, according to the ENA.

Mason, who works at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Tennessee, said her ER department has metal detectors at the door and armed guards.

"We take an average of 25 weapons a week off of people," she said.

LDS Hospital, the University of Utah Medical Center and Ogden's McKay-Dee Hospital have not had problems with violence in the emergency room, according to their spokespeople. But all say they have taken proactive precautions to prevent any surge in violence.

The U. has an armed officer stationed in the ER 24 hours a day, supplemented by hospital security. A spokesman for the hospital said the facility also takes other precautions. For example, when a victim of a crime is brought to the hospital and a perpetrator hasn't been caught yet, the emergency room is put in lockdown.

McKay-Dee Hospital recently started putting an armed guard in its ER around the clock.

"We know the Ogden corridor is becoming more violent," said Steve Keller, an ER nurse at McKay-Dee. "It's better to do preventable measures than have to react later on.

"People get frustrated, people are often at their wit's end when they come to an emergency room. I think the circumstances that bring them to the emergency room may be the thing that pushes them over the edge."

Other measures being taken to protect ER workers include some states asking their legislatures to make it a felony to injure a health-care worker, Mason said. Some hospitals will expel a patient from coming into their facility for a year for any reason if that patient attacks a health-care worker, she said.

"We've got to educate the public this is happening to nurses," Mason said.

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