Access Now: AORN COVID-19 Clinical Support

Archive September 2020 XXI, No. 9

Employee Safety: Always Looking Out for One Another

The Oregon Clinic Gastroenterology East at Gateway ensures personal protection remains a top priority.

Danielle Bouchat-Friedman, Associate Editor


Wendy Wellott, RN
DR. STRONG The clinic installed an alert button under the desk in the receptionist area so staff can make covert calls for help.

The pandemic has everyone on edge and patients’ frustration levels have understandably reached an all-time high. Dealing with a highly agitated patient can be scary — especially during the height of COVID-19 — and is something many healthcare workers don’t know how to properly handle. Offering training and solutions for incidents like this is something The Oregon Clinic Gastroenterology East at Gateway in Portland does not take lightly, and is one of the many reasons the facility is the winner of the 2020 OR Excellence Award for Employee Safety.

“We’ve called the local sheriff’s department to get pointers on how to deal with difficult patients,” says Wendy Wellott, RN, an endoscopy nurse who is also the facility’s safety and infection coordinator. “It’s hard to stay calm when someone is being irrational.”

The clinic has a backup system called Dr. Strong, which is an alert button installed in the reception area. If a patient or a visitor is agitated and staff doesn’t feel comfortable, they press the button to alert the center’s security officer. The computers at the front desk are equipped with Skype, so staff can easily log on and message someone if they need help.

These methods are more effective than picking up the phone and calling for help, which could provoke the agitated individual even more. “It’s another level of security for our staff,” says Ms. Wellott. “But we have also trained them to say in a nice, calm voice, ‘I’m here to help you, but let me go get my nurse manager.’ People appreciate it when you’re willing to retrieve a higher-up to help them.”

Ms. Wellott, because of her role as the safety and infection coordinator at the facility, and the nurse lead often get called in to diffuse troubling confrontations. “I have a knack for dealing with frustrated patients,” she says. “Everybody likes to call me ‘the softie’ because I have a way with people.”

Wendy Wellott, RN
SAFETY NET Staff can easily report any work-related issues or concerns that they have to The Safety Net, the clinic's online monitoring system.

The facility is located close to a busy train station and advocates that staff use the buddy system when leaving. “I always send all-staff emails to remind them to walk with a buddy to their cars or the train, or to carry pepper spray or a taser if they’re walking to their cars late at night,” says Ms. Wellott. The clinic has taken this action a step further by adjusting its security department’s work schedule. The morning guard arrives at 6:30 a.m., and a guard is on duty at night to escort patients into the building’s sleep center. The staff has the guard’s phone number in case they need his help or notice something suspicious.

Each year, the facility conducts four employee safety training sessions and four fire drills. “We perform yearly risk assessments and focus the trainings on events that might impact our staff,” says Ms. Wellott. “We actually faced a bomb scare last year that ended up being an empty bag left by the train station. But our staff was prepared and knew what to do.”

Staff can still report work-related issues or concerns through the organization’s online safety monitoring system. The electronic reports are routed to risk management and, depending on the issues involved, sent to the director of operations or the nurse manager. “After staff members submit reports, they get consistent updates about how the issues are being resolved,” says Ms. Wellott. “They see their concerns are being heard and taken seriously.” OSM

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