Bills protecting healthcare workers gain steam in Congress

Two bills aimed at protecting hospital workers are receiving growing recognition and support in Congress and from healthcare groups and executives. 

On Jan. 30, members of Congress and hospital and physician leaders highlighted the bipartisan Safety from Violence for Healthcare Employees Act at a Capitol Hill briefing, according to the American Hospital Association

The legislation, modeled after existing protections for aircraft and airport workers, would criminalize assault or intimidation of hospital employees in the performance of their jobs. It also authorizes grants to reduce the occurrence of such incidents. 

The AHA has been joined by several other organizations, including America's Essential Hospitals, the Catholic Health Association of the United States, and the Children's Hospital Association, in expressing support for the bill.

Reps. Larry Bucshon, MD, R-Ind., and Madeleine Dean, D-Pa., sponsors of the House bill, opened the briefing, according to the AHA, which co-hosted the briefing with the American College of Emergency Physicians.

Mark Boucot, president and CEO of Oakland, Md.-based WVU Medicine Garrett Regional Medical Center and Keyser, W.Va.-based WVU Medicine Potomac Valley Hospital; Kate FitzPatrick, DNP, RN, executive vice president of the Connelly Foundation and chief nurse executive officer of Philadelphia-based Jefferson Health; and Aisha Terry, MD, president of the American College of Emergency Physicians and associate professor of emergency medicine and health policy at Washington, D.C.-based George Washington University School of Medicine, also attended the briefing.

"We know for sure that workforce safety is linked to patient safety, and therefore in order to ensure that we're able to provide patients with the care that they need, we have to get them some help," Dr. Terry said, according to the AHA.

Overall, the AHA estimates that about 100 House and Senate staff attended the briefing. 

"We are encouraged by the growing recognition in Congress that healthcare workers deserve federal protections from workplace violence," the group said in a statement shared with Becker's. "There is strong bipartisan support for the SAVE Act and a broad coalition of groups supporting this legislation."

The briefing related to the SAVE Act comes amid anecdotal evidence as well as data pointing to rising rates of violence against healthcare workers. 

The latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that in 2022, private industry employers reported 2.8 million nonfatal workplace injuries and illnesses. If illnesses are removed, the healthcare and social services industry recorded 443,800 nonfatal injuries — the highest of any industry. 

Hospitals, health systems and states across the U.S. are making efforts to address the issue. Additionally, several members of Congress recently introduced bipartisan, bicameral legislation to reauthorize the Dr. Lorna Breen Health Care Provider Protection Act, a law that provides federal funding to prevent suicide, burnout, and mental and behavioral health conditions among healthcare workers.

The law, signed in March 2022, is named for Lorna Breen, MD, a physician who worked in New York City during the pandemic and died by suicide April 26, 2020.

A full list of supporters is available here. The full text of the reauthorization bill is available here.

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