Lawmakers move to combat violence against healthcare workers

Violence against healthcare workers is a subject that has been highlighted by healthcare organizations nationwide during the COVID-19 pandemic. In the wake of recent shootings on hospital campuses, including on the campus of Saint Francis Health System in Tulsa, Okla., there is even more urgency to address the issue. 

Lawmakers in some states and at the federal level are already acting to better protect healthcare workers. Here are eight initiatives: 

U.S.

U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., has introduced legislation requiring healthcare and social service employers to implement a workplace violence prevention plan to avoid and reduce workplace violence among employees.

The legislation, announced May 11 during National Nurses Week, directs the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to require employers to write and implement their plan.

On May 11, the legislation was referred to the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

Kansas

Kansas lawmakers considered a bill to increase criminal penalties for battery of a hospital employee and make the act a class A misdemeanor.

House Bill 2620, introduced Feb. 7, would have essentially provided the same penalties for attacking a healthcare worker as attacking a police officer or other first responder, according to The Kansas City Star. The House Judiciary Committee recommended that the bill be passed, but the full House did not vote on the legislation before the 2022 session ended in May. 

Meanwhile, Kansas State Nurses Association Executive Director Kelly Sommers told the Kansas Reflector the union is working to pass legislation in Kansas and nationwide to increase  protections and penalties related to violence against healthcare workers. 

Maryland

In Maryland, House Bill 0267 is being considered, which would make it illegal for someone to threaten a public health official with the intent to intimidate, interfere with or impede that worker from fulfilling official duties. That person would be guilty of a misdemeanor and could be imprisoned for up to 90 days, a fine of up to $500, or both.

The bill is sponsored by 10 state delegates.

Massachusetts

On June 2, Massachusetts lawmakers recommended that legislation requiring hospitals to develop and implement workplace violence prevention programs be referred to the House Ways and Means Committee. The House bill is a companion bill to a Senate bill that was referred to the Senate Ways and Means Committee in March. 

Under the House bill, hospitals would be required to perform a facility-specific risk assessment and then develop and implement a program "to minimize the danger of workplace violence to employees, which shall include appropriate employee training and a system for the ongoing reporting and monitoring of incidents and situations involving violence or the risk of violence." The legislation also calls for hospitals to designate a senior manager to develop and support an in-house crisis response team for employee victims of workplace violence.  

Michigan

Two bills have been introduced in Michigan: House Bill 5682 and House Bill 5084. House Bill 5682 states that if someone assaults an emergency room worker, and the violation happened while the worker was performing official duties, then the perpetrator would be guilty of a misdemeanor with maximum punishment of 93 days in jail, a $1,000 fine, or both.

A person who assaults an emergency room worker without a weapon and inflicts serious harm without the intent to kill would be punished by a maximum one-year prison sentence, a $2,000 fine, or both.

A person who assaults an emergency room worker with a dangerous weapon without the intent to murder could receive up to four years in prison, a $4,000 fine, or both.

House Bill 5084 states that an employer would be able to post a sign that says it's a felony to assault a person who works in an emergency room and that the person is allowed to perform his or her duties.

The bills are sponsored by state Reps. Mike Mueller and Ben Frederick and are under consideration in the house. Both have been referred to the government operations committee.

New Jersey

A bill was introduced in March that would establish threats against healthcare workers as a "disorderly persons offense." Those who threaten healthcare workers could be imprisoned for up to six months and/or receive a fine of up to $1,000.

Additionally, the bill would mandate an anger management course or 30 days of community service for those who attack healthcare workers.

The bill — called the "Health Care Heroes Violence Prevention Act" — has been referred to the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

Utah

Utah's governor signed House Bill 32 in March, relating to the assault of an owner, employee or contractor of a healthcare facility. The legislation, which passed the state's House and Senate in February, enhances penalties for assault or threat of violence against healthcare facility workers.

Under the legislation, assault or threat of violence against such workers while they are performing their duties is a class A misdemeanor, and it is a third-degree felony if the perpetrator "acts intentionally or knowingly" and the attack "causes substantial bodily injury."

Wisconsin

The Wisconsin Assembly passed legislation Feb. 23 that makes it a felony to threaten a healthcare worker. 

The bill makes it a felony to commit battery against or threaten a healthcare worker "if the battery or threat is in response to an action taken by the healthcare provider in his or her official capacity, or in response to something that happened at the healthcare facility." It expands on a 2020 law that made battery against a nurse, an emergency medical care provider or an individual working in an emergency department a felony.

The measure has been signed by Gov. Tony Evers.

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