A Healthcare CEO Speaks Out About Domestic Violence

December 10, 2013
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Robert PearlIn today’s post on his weekly Forbes’ blog, Robert Pearl, MD, CEO of The Perma

Robert PearlIn today’s post on his weekly Forbes’ blog, Robert Pearl, MD, CEO of The Permanente Medical Group in Northern California highlights the impact of domestic violence on business.  Yes, domestic violence is a personal issue, tearing apart families and causing endless amounts of pain and suffering.  It is also a healthcare issue seen by every clinician in every specialty whether they recognize it or not.

Women (and men) victims of domestic violence are beaten, shot, burned, raped, and/or psychologically traumatized by someone who is supposed to love them. They present in the ER as injuries; in primary care as depression, chronic headaches, refractory obesity, or exacerbations of chronic illness.  They see psychiatrists after suicide attempts, plastic surgeons to repair wounds, orthopedic clinics to set broken bones.  I could go on and on, but you get the point.

With 24% of women and 14% of men having been physically assaulted by a partner at some point in their lives, if you work in healthcare, then you have cared for a victim of domestic violence.  But, it’s important to remember, that if we don’t ask, more often than not, they will not tell.  That is why, according to Dr. Pearl’s article, “the Affordable Care Act identifies domestic violence screening as a national health priority, alongside smoking cessation, exercise, nutrition, substance abuse reduction and the provision of mental health services.”

But domestic violence is also a business issue.  According to Dr. Pearl’s blog post, “Nearly a quarter of employed women report that domestic violence has affected their work performance at some point in their lives. Each year, an estimated 8 million days of paid work is lost in the U.S. because of domestic violence.”

But beyond that domestic violence is costly.  As Dr. Pearl notes, it is the secret killer that costs $8.3 billion annually:  “a combination of higher medical costs ($5.8 billion) and lost productivity ($2.5 billion).”

But DV in the workplace is more than a series of statistics, it is the heart break of having a co-worker – mother of a young son, shot to death by her estranged husband as she was parking her truck in the driveway.  It is the pain of learning that one of the physicians in your medical group, a lovely young ob-gyn was shot and killed by her ex-husband while her young daughter slept nearby.  It is the terror co-workers experience when a batterer breaches security and starts threatening his wife in the workplace.

Domestic violence, unfortunately, is everywhere.  We see its effects much more often than we are willing to acknowledge.  But failure to acknowledge, indeed failure to name what is happening to victims, only serves to reinforce our reluctance to get involved.  And, so I congratulate Dr. Pearl on calling out domestic violence for the scourge that it is and highlighting the importance of business’ response to this pervasive, costly, and potentially lethal condition.  I highly recommend that you click on over to his blog to learn more.  Then share it widely with your friends, colleagues and network.  Let’s help blow this secret killer’s cover.