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States increasingly trying to protect healthcare workers from violence


By Sabriya Rice
Posted: February 14, 2014 - 3:30 pm ET
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Oregon's Legislature joined a growing trend this week when it considered a bill that would make it a felony to intentionally or knowingly cause physical injury to an employee at a state hospital or mental institution.

Several states are enacting or considering similar laws amid growing concerns about the safety of hospital staff caused by recent widely reported attacks.

The Oregon legislation, introduced Feb.10 by Rep. Brian Clem (D-Salem), would expand crimes of assault in the third degree to include causing physical injury to a person employed at a state mental hospital. The law currently covers public transit workers, youth correction facility staff and emergency medical workers. Assault in the third degree is considered a class C felony in Oregon, punishable by up to five years in prison and $125,000 in fines, according to the Oregon Criminal Defense Lawyers group.

Just one week before the Oregon bill was introduced, a technician at a hospital in that state was left with a dislocated jaw, concussion and split lip, as reported by local press.

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Other recent headlines show why such laws are increasing being considered. As many as 19 states have increased penalties for those convicted of assaults on nurses and or other healthcare personnel.

A nurse from a hospital in New York's borough of Brooklyn had to undergo emergency brain surgery and was in critical condition this month after being attacked by a patient, according to local reports.

In January, a judge in Maine convicted a man of aggravated assault for attacking a mental health worker at a hospital; according to reports the worker was “beaten and bruised and with the point of a pen embedded in her hand.”

An estimated 572,000 nonfatal violent crimes occurred against people age 16 or older while they were at work or on duty, a 2011 report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics (PDF) found. About 10% of victims of workplace violence were in medical settings, the report found. Nurses reported being grabbed, hit, spit on and bitten, often by patients who were under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or who needed psychiatric care, according to a 2009 Emergency Nurses Association report looking at what occurred in more than 700 hospital attacks.

There is no federal standard that requires workplace violence protections, according to the American Nurses Association. It has compiled a list of states that have sought legislative solutions to ensure the safety of hospital workers.

In June, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam signed legislation that gave hospital workers the same protections as law enforcement officers in that state. The bill imposed a maximum fine of up to $5,000 for offenses committed against a person licensed, certified or otherwise authorized by the laws of the state to administer healthcare.

Follow Sabriya Rice on Twitter: @MHsrice


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