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Access professionals by definition are often the first line of defense when it comes to unruly or aggressive patients or family members in a health care setting.
Even in a worst-case scenario — one in which the patient or family member wields a weapon — there are actions the health care worker can take to try to defuse the situation, says Judith Schubert, executive director of the Brookfield, WI-based Crisis Prevention Institute (CPI). Dramatic television scenes notwithstanding, the best course of action is to avoid attempting to disarm the person, Schubert emphasizes. "Our efforts should be on what to do to get the law enforcement individuals there."
Schubert offers these tips for access personnel who find themselves dealing with an armed individual.
1. Stay calm. Do this in whatever way works for you, Schubert says. "Some people reflect on a plan, some do positive self-talk. If the individual threatening with the weapon senses we’re losing control, the situation can escalate."
2. Avoid rushing the person.
3. Focus on the individual, not the weapon. "Remember that a gun will present no danger until someone decides to fire it," Schubert says. "If you do this, you’re more likely to communicate calm to that person."
4. Negotiate. "Understand the power of negotiation to be as simple as getting some kind of yes,’" Schubert advises. That "yes," she says, can be to a question as simple as "Is it OK if I take a step back?" or "Can we sit down?" Those little "yesses" add up, Schubert adds. "In a negotiation, the more someone complies or has that rapport, the less likely the person is to shoot."
5. If there is a risk for weapons, policies and procedures should be clear to staff. Everyone, not just security personnel, should know how to respond, she says.
[Editor’s note: CPI can be contacted at 3315-K N. 124th St., Brookfield, WI 53005; Telephone: (800) 558-8976; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.]