Ohio nurses seek felony status for using bodily fluids as weapon

Nurses in Ohio are asking state lawmakers to amend a proposed bill to increase the legal penalties associated with using bodily fluids as a weapon against healthcare workers, according to the Dayton Daily News

The current proposed legislation, HB 452, is designed to address hospital safety. It would mandate that hospitals use a team, including their healthcare employees, to develop a plan to prevent workplace violence and manage aggressive behaviors. The bill also would require hospitals to establish a system for reporting incidents of workplace violence, and require an employee trained in de-escalation procedures to be present on psychiatric and emergency units.

There have been three hearings regarding HB 452 in the Ohio House Public Health Policy Committee. During a recent hearing, Rick Lucas, BSN, RN, a critical care and rapid response nurse at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical in Columbus, and president and executive director of the Ohio Nurses Association, advocated for the amendment regarding bodily fluids.

"While many of our first responders, law enforcement partners, and corrections employees have protections for this type of disgusting and potentially deadly behavior, too often health professionals are told that it is just part of the job," Mr. Lucas told the committee, according to a transcript the union provided to Becker's. "I am here to tell you that having someone use blood, saliva, urine, feces, semen, sputum, or vomit as a weapon against healthcare providers is not part of the job. That is called assault and should be criminally charged as a felony in the fifth degree."

He added that these actions also "pose severe health risks, including the transmission of infectious diseases. By amending this bill to increase the criminal penalty for the use of bodily fluids as weapons, we can do what is necessary to protect healthcare workers from both physical harm and psychological trauma, ensuring a safer working environment."

Jacinta Tucker, RN, a nurse in the intensive care unit at Cleveland Clinic Union Hospital in Dover, Ohio, and an ONA member, echoed Mr. Lucas during the hearing.

She said amending the proposed bill to increase the legal penalties associated with using bodily fluids as a weapon should include "outlining specific penalties and procedural requirements for offenders, such as mandatory health testing and potential financial liability for testing costs."

State Rep. Beth Liston questioned how harsher penalties could affect patients who may have dementia or a severe mental illness, according to the Daily News

"I really struggle with saying an elderly demented or delirious person who's critically ill should be charged with a felony for lashing out when strapped down," Ms. Liston said, according to the publication.

Union representatives provided assurance that harsher penalties would not be used universally and are focused on those who commit these acts willingly, the Daily News reported.

A fourth hearing on the Ohio bill with the committee is scheduled for June 26. 

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