When recent media stories focused on Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein and his history of sexual harassment, the reader might have dismissed this as more Hollywood “trash.” Surely this type of behavior does not occur in other occupations such as nursing. Wrong! In fact, home health nurses often deal with sexual harassment by patients.

On December 20, 2017, Medscape conducted an online poll of nurses. According to an article entitled “Me, Too! For Home Care Providers,” “73% of nurses polled said that they had been sexually harassed by patients.” The harassment could have been anything from offensive jokes and sexual comments to inappropriate touching.

Why would this occur so frequently in home health? The article, “Me Too! For Home Care Providers,” says that the conditions are right for this to occur. Home health nurses provide care in the homes of the clients. The nurse is often alone with the client. The client is on his “home turf” and may feel emboldened to act inappropriately. Sometimes the client’s medical condition may impair his ability to behave appropriately. For example, the client may have suffered a stroke which has affected his behavior.

Both federal and state laws forbid sexual harassment. The article “It’s Not Just Hollywood: Sexual Harassment in Nursing” at lists the following steps a nurse can take when a patient behaves inappropriately:

  • Set boundaries early. What can begin as a seemingly innocent joke can quickly escalate to an onslaught of sexual commentary.
  • Make it clear the attention is unwanted. Sometimes changing the subject or an unamused look isn’t enough to get your point across.
  • Report the harassment to your supervisor. They may be able to reassign the patient to another nurse.
  • Do not be alone with the patient. If you are unable to have the patient reassigned, bring in a coworker.

It is very important for nurses to document every instance of sexual harassment by a patient. The documentation must be very specific. “Me, Too! For Home Care Providers” gives the following example of documentation on the case of inappropriate touching: “The patient touched my left breast.”

After receiving a report of sexual harassment, the supervisor and upper management will investigate the situation and take necessary action. This may include reviewing clinical notes, interviewing other nurses on the case, and counseling clients and care-givers. Every part of the investigation must be documented.

If it is possible that the client’s behavior may be caused by a clinical condition such as a stroke, the supervisor and upper management need to contact the patient’s physician to seek assistance. It may be necessary for the provider to discontinue services to the client.

—By Karen Centowski