States Move to Protect Healthcare Workers in Light of Attacks

03 Mar, 2024 Liz Carey


Jackson, MI ( – More than half of the U.S. states are considering legislation to protect healthcare workers in light of continued attacks.

According to a 2022 survey from the American College of Emergency Physicians, workplace violence has steadily increased since 2017, with the vast majority of assaults being committed by patients. Another recent report in 2022 found that 57 nurses were assaulted every day between April 1 and June 30, a total of over 1,700 assaults per month. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics said that in 2018, healthcare and social workers accounted for 73 percent of all nonfatal workplace violence injuries and illnesses, and that those workers were five times more likely to experience workplace violence than any other category of workers. There were 207 workplace violence deaths in healthcare between 2016 and 2020.

Just this past month, a nurse at Henry Ford Jackson Hospital was stabbed on the job by a combative patient.

Officials said officers from the Jackson, Mich. Police Department were called to the hospital around 7 a.m. on Feb. 13, when a 23-year-old female patient, at the hospital for a mental evaluation, stabbed the nurse. The patient had informed staff that she did not want help and had attempted to leave, police said. When hospital staff members and nurses tried to stop her, she became combative, and began to fight. In the midst of the conflict, the patient pulled out a pocketknife and stabbed a nurse in her arm.

Police said security officers were able to restrain the woman and wait for police officers to arrive at the scene. The nurse suffered minor injuries and was treated at the hospital with stitches to the stab wound.

In October of last year, nurses at the Virginia Mason Medical Center in Seattle, Wash. went on strike to protest unsafe conditions. Nurses with the Washington State Nurses Association picketed the hospital demanding better staffing and protection against workplace violence. According to the union, one nurse had been stabbed in the face with a butter knife and another was nearly hit with a hammer. The nurses said they’d approached management with requests for better security, but were ignored.

“I’ve never felt more unsafe,” Virginia Mason emergency department nurse Kimberly Travis-Carter told KIRO. “A lot of patients come in with weapons on them — homemade weapons — we’ve had instances where we’ve had guns in our ER.”

In response, the hospital said safety was an important part of its workplace.

“Virginia Mason Franciscan Health is committed to ensuring a safe and high-quality workplace that attracts and retains our dedicated employees,” Kelly Campbell, Division Vice President, Marketing and Communications, Virginia Mason Franciscan Health, said in a statement at the time. “We address any safety issues immediately as they occur and work to ensure a secure environment is provided for everyone.”

At least 29 states are looking at or have passed legislation to allow health care facilities to raise independent security and police forces to address violence in hospitals and other healthcare settings, a new report from the Journal of the American Medical Association found.

“States are aware of the rising violence against health care workers and have taken steps to respond, focusing on both preventing violence before it happens and on increased penalties for attacks after they occur,” the report said.

State legislatures are looking at either increasing punishment for anyone who attacks a healthcare worker, or by mandating that healthcare facilities have plans in place to improve workplace safety and implement prevention measures. The report said states are taking the stance because Congress has yet to act.

Possible reasons behind the increase in violent incidents include frustration with healthcare costs, limited treatment options and wait times, the report said.

The states considering allowing facilities to create their independent police forces say the proposals arose because of health care workers’ direct demands and lobbying by hospital systems.

In Kentucky, legislation to protect healthcare workers passed the House in late February and is being considered in the Senate. HB 194 would make assaulting or attempting to assault a healthcare worker at a hospital, health clinic, doctor’s office, nursing home or other location a felony and carry a sentence of one to five years in prison. If the assault occurs during a declared emergency, the stakes are higher and each incident could be prosecuted as a Class C felony with a sentence of five to 10 years in prison if convicted.

Sponsored by Ky. State Rep. Kimberly Poore Moser (R-Taylor Mill), a former flight nurse and intensive care nurse, the bill would expand on a 2023 law that focused on assault protections for emergency room staff only.

Rep. Steve Riley (R-Glasgow), told legislators the violence in healthcare is an industry-wide problem.

“We have a shortage. We know there are cases where they are being abused,” he said in a speech on the House floor. “I’ll give you an example – a lot of times with dentists, they’ll have people come in and get angry because they won’t give them more pain medication. Long-term care facilities, people get angry because their mother or father is not treated the way they think they should be treated. So I think to extend this throughout the medical profession will give (workers) a sense of comfort, a sense of protection, and maybe another tool to get more medical personnel throughout the commonwealth of Kentucky.”

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    About The Author

    • Liz Carey

      Liz Carey has worked as a writer, reporter and editor for nearly 25 years. First, as an investigative reporter for Gannett and later as the Vice President of a local Chamber of Commerce, Carey has covered everything from local government to the statehouse to the aerospace industry. Her work as a reporter, as well as her work in the community, have led her to become an advocate for the working poor, as well as the small business owner.

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