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Threatened by Patient Family


While helping a co-worker (so she could eat lunch) I was threatened by a patient's family; they made specific, violent treats towards me. I immediately reported this to my supervisor and one of our managers, plus the MD available in the unit.

The solution was to have this family therapist (who had been working with the family) come down and speak to them. She wanted to be "gentle" with them, since they are having a stressful time, and said she would approach the issue "through the back door." What she ended up saying to the family was that their "guy talk" was too much for the "young ladies" in the unit, and that they need to tone it down.

I was very upset. When I got home, I told my family about this situation, and my husband is incensed. He feels like they didn't take the situation seriously at all, and that at the very least, security should have been called, if not the police.

I don't feel particularly safe there, and my husband is concerned for my safety as well. There are no metal detectors at my hospital, plus security wasn't even made aware of the potential for a problem. But as far as my unit is concerned, the matter was taken care of by the therapist telling the family to "tone it down."

The therapist said that if the threats continue, she'll have a "family conference" with them to tell them it's not appropriate to talk to the staff that way.

I think this is all BS - that they are catering to this family at the expense of their staff. I'm ****** and fearful of these people, given what they said they want to do to me (and all of our nurses.) My husband doesn't want me to go back there unless the family is dealt with a little more stringently and unless security is at least notified that these people are a potential problem.

I don't know what to do ... if I should talk to my manager again or if we should go to security ourselves or what. Anyone been in this situation before? Thoughts?

Valerie Salva, BSN, RN

Has 19 years experience.

If you truly do not feel safe, and since your husband supports you in this- I would call your mgr and tell her that you do not feel safe and do not want to go back to the unit while the family is there.

I worked in a facility (chronic outpt dialysis) where a pt threatened a nurse over and over again. These pts come to the unit three times a week for years- they don't get discharged. Mgmt did nothing to protect this nurse. One day, the pt broke into the nurse's home and raped her.

I was a traveler at the unit and left shortly afterward so I do not know what happened after the rape.

I do feel that the facility is partially responsible for what happened. They totally failed in their duty to protect the staff from a hostile- and dangerous- working environment.


Specializes in Psychiatric Nursing. Has 1 years experience.

Patient or no Patient that threat needs to be taken seriously. Weather you believe a pt (or the pts family) really does mean to do you harm or is simply just stating so they need to be called on their actions. Have you had the opportunity to talk to your supervisor about the situation and the fact that adequate action had not been taken? I have to say I agree with your husband, for a significant threat the police need to be called in. If you were working as a teacher, engineer, dog walker, etc and someone made threatening comments to you at your place of work I doubt their would be any hesitation in calling the police, why is it because we are nurses we have to put up with anything differently. Just my :twocents: but I am really sorry this happend to you and I hope it gets solved soon.

That is exactly the kind of thing I"m afraid of. The therapist said that the family "acts up" when their child has a bad day. Well, what's going to happen when the child finally, inevitably dies? If they don't care about alienating the staff while they still need us to care of their child, then who knows what they will be capable of when the child dies? One of them could follow me out to the parking lot, follow me home, or assault me in the hospital itself.

I guess I will talk to my manager.

ETA: I did tell my supervisor that I didn't appreciate the soft approach and that I would not work at a facility that allowed threats to happen like that. She said she agreed, but eventually went along with the therapists approach.

You husband is right. If you don't feel comfortable then tell your supervisors that you will not be returning until they make the workplace safe. The therapist obviously has a lot to learn. She is not dealing with your reality and does not care. Make certain that you know her name. As someone who has been attacked on the job, I can tell you that it is better for you to work elsewhere, than to work at a hostile workplace and be subject to violence.

My fear is that my manager will fire me for making a big stink. They place enormous value on "patient satisfaction." I guess it would tell me something about my work place if they fired me for being concerned about my safety after threats, but still ... who wants to get fired?

They should have been removed by security No excuse ! Come back another day with a better attitude !


Specializes in Corrections, Cardiac, Hospice. Has 18 years experience.

I would have called the police right then and there. My next step would be to call risk managment. Tell them what happened, that I am documenting names, dates and times and that if anything happens to a nurse from this family all the information would be turned over to the proper authorities. Remind your HR that they have an obligation to provide a safe, nonhostile work environment. Then tell them also, names, times and dates being documented. Good luck, hon. I don't envy your battle.


Specializes in Operating Room Nursing. Has 6 years experience.

I would call a code black if I received threats of violence.


Specializes in Acute post op ortho. Has 30 years experience.

Many, many years ago, a distant relative of mine (also a nurse) was followed home by someone who had threatened her on more than one occasion at work, and her employer knew about the situation.

He attempted to grab her from behind as she walked up her sidewalk to the front door, (he was already naked). She heard him, reached into her lab coat pocket, grabbed her .38, swung her arm around her shoulder & fired. Her had just gotten his arm up to reach for her & she hit him right in the neck. She never even looked back, she ran in the door & called 911.

The ******* was dead when the police arrived.


Nurse with a carry permit & shooting skills=1

She's still hard of hearing in her left ear, but that's a small price to pay.......

She could have been the one in the coffin.

I agree with the above to call risk management and put exactly what happened in writing to them. I would also make HR aware and start a paper trail. If you don't want to return that is one option. If you do return and it happens again you go and call the police. Period. Have them come and handle it. A threat isn't a family or hospital matter. It is a police matter. If your employer gives you a hard time you call a lawyer. You have the right to work in a safe environment free from threats and hostility and that is exactly what you should tell risk management and HR.

Magsulfate, BSN, RN

Specializes in ICU. Has 13 years experience.

I agree with the other posters,, also, I would refuse to take care of this patient. Even refuse to break out the nurse that is taking care of this patient.


Specializes in Cardiac/ED.

I was once involved in an altercation with a fellow employee that hurled something at me and almost hit me...an assault...I did not call the police but rather let the managment take the reigns...he continued to work there. They thanked me for allowing them to handle it but hind site tells me that they did nothing. I should have called the police and pressed charges. I wonder what they would have done then...if you feel that you are still under threat go to the police and fill out a police report and specify that the individual made "terrorist threats". You will not be violating hippa as the patient is protected not the family. Let your employer figure out how to sweep that one under the rug when an investigator from the police shows up.

Unfortunately this does kill a potential career at this facility but sounds like you should not be working there if they treat these situations like this, remember its not just you at risk but your family. This is the interent age and it does not take much more than a credit card to get all the info that you need on someone. It is a common misconception that because they are patients that they can say or do anything they want to us..it needs to stop and it stops only with us and our not taking this BS anymore! I know at my hospital their is a line at the door for a bed so let them find health care elsewhere. It will be only a matter of time before no one will take care of their loved one.

Good luck


Verbal threats are abusive and usually someone seeking power IMO, I can understand in a way the family councilor, in order to even partially do her/his job, they must approach the family half-way hoping they will be amenable to this. After all, what else can she do? IF she had the facillity backing, she could threaten to no longer allow them in that hospital with threat of calling the police but I am guessing that she doesn't have the "power" to be able to do much but discuss/converse with these types of problems. In your situation, I would simply tell the supervisor honestly that you feel threatened and no longer want to take care of this patient even to help when someone goes to lunch and offer to work another floor if need to until this family leaves as a first step, of course paper trail and risk management for sure.


Specializes in ICU/Critical Care.

Call risk management and make them aware of the situation. And let your manager know that you do not feel safe working there while that family/patient are still on the unit. You should report all threats against you to your manager and security. If it was me, I would have called security and had them speak with the family. If you get any more threats, screw the hospital, file a police report. Any hospital who does not properly deal with threats against staff should be held liable if anything should happen to their staff.


Specializes in acute rehab, med surg, LTC, peds, home c. Has 16 years experience.

I would have called the police right then and there. My next step would be to call risk managment. Tell them what happened, that I am documenting names, dates and times and that if anything happens to a nurse from this family all the information would be turned over to the proper authorities. Remind your HR that they have an obligation to provide a safe, nonhostile work environment. Then tell them also, names, times and dates being documented. Good luck, hon. I don't envy your battle.

Shay is absolutely right. You can also get a restraining order against them so that they can't come near the facility. I don't know if that would be helpful but you would definitely be well within your rights to do so.


Has 2 years experience.

Don't send a therapist to do a cop's job.

Often, the problem behavior will continue unabated, and perhaps worsened as the therapist very efficiently conveys the message that what they're doing is perfectly fine, de facto, if not de jure: There will be no consequences for threatening the staff.

Look for another job, pronto. Kudos for your family for supporting you in this.

gonzo1, ASN, RN

Specializes in CEN, ED, ICU, PSYCH, PP. Has 18 years experience.

Wow, just think how rich your family will be after one of these bozos assaults you and your family sues your work place for ignoring threats.

It is hard to believe in this day and age that anyone would ignore violent threats.

Of course we don't know what the threats were, so maybe you are over-reacting.

Maybe not

I think you need to consult with a police man, or at least a lawyer to see if these people are breaking the law.

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