Nurses are at risk every time we work. Knowing we are likely to be exposed to any number of harmful or fatal diseases and infectious materials. We all understand the chances we are taking and take them willingly enough. We accept the fact that we must take every patient whether they have Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS), Tuberculosis, Hepatitis A, B, or C, infectious wounds and even good old influenza. We realize that with our profession we acknowledged that there were risks involved. Each of us is also at risk for a very serious problem that receives very little attention. Any patient may at any time choose to press assault or battery charges.
Hypothetically speaking as a nurse you could be working in the setting of your choice, long-term care, hospital, rehabilitation or anywhere in between. You could get a patient that is seriously ill with multiple chronic conditions. This person could for any number of reasons begin to become confused or less lucid than a previous state. Many things could happen. Many things assuredly will happen as they continue to around the clock in most any care setting. This patient will need to be turned and cleaned and linens will be changed, medicines will be given and meals passed and all the regular activities that occur. A patient can have times of lucidity and confusion intermittently and you could be this patients nurse at some point.
The facts are these. Any person at any time can call or have the police called and file a complaint on any other person. There need be no witness and no other facts in attendance other than the will to press charges for assault or battery. If an officer does not see an offense take place he/she can not make an arrest but any person can file a complaint and ask to press charges. When this happens a person accused is not exactly charged at this time. There is a complaint pending which must go before the city attorney for a resolution. The officer writes the complaint it is then kicked up to the assault division. Someone in this department looks at the merit of the complaint and files their opinion of said complaint. Unfortunately it could take up to two weeks for the complaint to go from the writing officer to the city attorney’s desk. Then it could take four to six weeks before the city attorney looks at the case and decides if it is a case with merit and if there is a need to proceed. The city attorney does not have to decide this immediately however he/she can decide to file within or up to three years. It boils down to the accuser’s word against the accused. Which makes it unlikely that charges will be filed.
If the person accused is a nurse that could mean that as soon as the officer takes a statement the nurse is put on administrative leave until the situation is resolved. Physicians and other nurses can show support. The unit manager can look the nurse in the eye and tell him/her that she does not believe this ever happened. Human resources will give the nurse the number for the corporate attorney. Then the nurse will be asked to sign an agreement of administrative leave. Phrases such as "until such time that allegations are disproved" have a certain disheartening quality.
We as nurses obviously can not be assisted every time a patient room is entered. There are many interventions carried out daily while a nurse is alone with a patient. Unfortunately we will always be at risk of any patient either being confused or spiteful or just mean spirited enough to file a complaint or press charges. I believe abuse is a very serious issue. I also believe true abuse should be punished. I do not know what could be done to prevent false accusations or those accusations that are made by patients in time of confusion. I only know that for a working person such as a nurse to be unable to work while waiting for the wheels of justice to turn seems objectionable.
In my opinion we stand alone and largely unprotected from this risk. Someone that you have literally cried and cared for and poured your heart into assisting can make this charge at anytime. This can not stop us from carrying out our duties and continuing to be the best advocate we can be.