The shrilling sound of an ambulance, the urgent calls of nurses and doctors, the metallic scent of blood, and the pungent smell of medical supplies and anxious-looking guardians-such is the common picture one would paint in the mind of the Emergency Room (ER). When asked, most people can state the number one priority of the ER, which is to decrease the fatality of patients and to lessen their wounds or diseases. However, it seems rather ironic that the ER is now turning into a place that causes blood from the place that saves lives. Seeking ways to stop the violence in the emergency department is an urgent issue.
On July 1 at 10:00 P.M., a doctor was assaulted in the ER of a hospital located in Iksan city. The doctor was severely injured, ended up having a concussion, whiplash injury, and a fracture in the nasal bone and a tooth. The attacker, the patient, said that the doctor was ridiculing his state. However, it turned out that the patient was inebriated, which indicates he had the possibility of misjudging the situation.
Violence in the ER is more heavily treated than violence in general, which is the reason behind giving culprits additional punishment. According to the Emergency Medical Service Act, disruption such as violence towards the faculties’ diagnoses in ER leads up to five years in prison or a 50 million won fine. It is notable that the punishment of the former is greater than that of the latter—maximum two years in prison or a five million won penalty.
Even with the stronger penalties enforced, the rate of ER violence has not yet decreased. Seeing what mental state the perpetrators are put into helps to see the reason behind such ceaselessness. They are mainly either drunk or fulfilling the duty of being guardians. Both are mentally unstable at the moment for different reasons, yet they end up committing the same crimes in that they could not make straight decisions to restrain their negative emotions or to acknowledge the magnitude of the punishment.
The Korean Society of Emergency Medicine (KSEM) and The Korea Emergency Nurses Association (KENA) sent a joint letter of plea to the government. Those associations asked for the support on the mandatory police presence in the ER, stressing the policy as a final step. Such a physical force-related policy would well work in that it is nearly impossible for merely financial penalties to effectively prevent this kind of perpetration.
Contrarily, police presence is criticized as a waste of manpower. According to statistics provided by the Prosecution Service, medical violence accounted for only 0.02 percent from the violence department, an infinitesimal amount. This highlights the claim that the police force should be allocated minimally in bigger hospitals, considering that bigger hospitals have higher possibilities of the ER violence.
Even if the current regulation from the violence in the ER is invalid, requiring public police presence seems to be taking its measures too far. Governmental-level force, as the medical association said should be the last resort. Also, according to the Benefit Principle, beneficiaries from the public service should bear the cost. This means that the hospital is preferentially obligated to cover the cost and handle every occurrence in its boundary.
One method for the hospital to cope with this is expanding the private security guard policy. By hiring citizen volunteers as security guards and allocating lower level of work than regular guards, this improved policy would increase the force of the hospital. Hospitals could offer medical benefits or smaller portion of a monetary reward in compensation for their work, if hospitals are concerned about the additional loss of their income. Doctors’ diagnoses open the path of life to the patient; frequently occurring violence just narrows the possibility. Violence in the ER should be handled severely by corresponding force but not excessively.