CHICAGO (CBS)–An estimated 25,000 assaults are reported annually in U.S. workplaces, with about 75 percent of those assaults occurring in the healthcare field and in social service settings. Change may be on the way, however. A new state law takes effect in January that will require all health care facilities to provide violence prevention training and offer whistleblower protections for workers who report assaults.

Assaults in healthcare settings may actually be underreported, according to CBS 2’s Vince Gerasole, who talked to healthcare workers about confronting violence in the workplace.

Registered Nurse at Rush University Medical Center Katherine Kowalski said she often feels uneasy.

“It’s scary at times, Kowalski said.

At University of Illinois Hospital, Registered Nurse Bill Pater said he’s endured dangerous situations during work hours.

“I myself have been hit, punched, kicked and spat on,” Pater said.

While many different situations can arise at a hospital, most medical centers now teach staff how to react in an active shooter situation.

Lauris Freidenfelds coordinates emergency response programs–also known as active shooter drills-at Rush University Medical Center. The sessions require employees to engage in role-playing.

Many hospitals now teach staff to perform a certain sequence of actions if they encounter someone with a firearm.

Employees are taught guidelines recommended by the Department of Homeland Security: “Run, Hide, and Fight.”

Sometimes, following those rules may mean leaving a patient’s side.

“It’s kind of like asking a mother to leave your child,” Freidenfelds said.

Surviving an active shooter may mean keeping the healthcare worker alive so they can come back and help, however.

“You are keeping yourself safe, but you are also focused on protecting the patient,” Kowalski said.

Monday’s fatal shooting at Mercy Hospital served as a sharp reminder that active shooter situations can happen anywhere.

Freidenfelds said hospitals may soon reach a point when doors are stationed with guards.

“We have emergency drills, but in the moment it will be difficult for all of us to be ready for that,” Freidenfelds said.


Vince Gerasole