Critics weigh in on legislation to establish hospital police forces

Amid rising violence against healthcare workers, states are considering or approving laws that address penalties for assaults on healthcare workers, as well as allow the creation of hospital police forces, KFF Health News reported May 15. Groups representing nurses and hospitals point to benefits of such laws, while critics warn against pitfalls of establishing hospital police forces. 

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp signed legislation May 2 that increases penalties for people who commit violence against healthcare workers and allows hospitals to establish campus police forces.

The bill, which passed the state's legislature in March, allows Georgia hospitals to form their own police departments using certified law enforcement officers. 

Other states have looked at similar bills to address violence against healthcare workers. New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy signed legislation May 8 that establishes the criminal offense of threats against a healthcare professional or any worker employed by a healthcare facility. The "Health Care Heroes Violence Prevention Act" also establishes additional penalties for an individual who assaults a worker employed by a licensed healthcare facility or a healthcare professional.

And in Florida, a bill under consideration would enhance criminal penalties for people who knowingly commit assault or battery upon workers at a hospital. Under the bill, assailants who assault a worker at a hospital would face a misdemeanor charge of the first degree rather than a misdemeanor charge of the second degree. 

Overall, about 40 states have laws that establish or enhance penalties for assaults on healthcare workers, KFF reported, citing information from the American Nurses Association. And lawmakers in 29 states have approved or are working on similar laws, as well as laws that allow hospitals to establish campus police forces.

Groups representing nurses and hospitals say such laws address circumstances in which aggressive or agitated patients sometimes become violent, according to KFF.

But critics argue that establishing hospital police forces will escalate violence at hospitals and could have downstream effects, the publication reported. 

A trauma surgeon at Philadelphia-based University of Pennsylvania told KFF she was worried about bringing police into an environment where patients may already distrust the healthcare system. 

"Our primary lens shouldn't be that our patients are a danger to us," said Elinore Kaufman, MD. "It's a harmful lens and a racist one."

Under the Georgia bill, a peace officer employed by a hospital who is certified would have the power of arrest, and hospital security personnel who are certified could carry a standard issue firearm or weapon.

Mr. Kemp signed the bill the same week as a mass shooting at Northside Hospital Medical Midtown in Atlanta on May 2. 

To read the full KFF report, click here

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