The CEO of Scripps Health on Monday voiced support for a California proposal to increase penalties on people who attack hospitals workers.
Assembly Bill 329, introduced Jan. 31, mandates up to one year in jail and fines of up to $2,000 for those who assault or batter a healthcare worker inside a hospital. Current California law imposes those penalties only on persons who attack first responders working outside hospitals in emergency situations.
"Violence appears to be on the rise within hospitals," Scripps Health CEO Chris Van Gorder said. "I suspect there are many factors causing the rise—societal changes, alcohol, drugs, access to weapons and failure to effectively address behavioral health issues with funding and resources."
Van Gorder said that "in the end, the hospital emergency department is the 'end of the food chain.' Hospitals and healthcare personnel are being attacked. It's impossible to care for a patient with a barrier between the patient and the healthcare provider—physician, nurse, technician, security officer and others."
The legislation refers to studies that have found that 35% to 80% of hospital staff have been physically assaulted at least once during their careers. The bill notes that California is one of the few states that has not passed a felony law pertaining to violence committed inside a healthcare facility.
"We want the laws in California to be equal—that an assault on a healthcare worker who is only trying to care for the attacker in a hospital be the same as it is for a first responder outside of the hospital," Van Gorder said. "We hope this will be a deterrent but, in any case, we owe this to our healthcare workers across the state."
On March 5, the California Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or Cal/OSHA, released the 2017-18 Report on Workplace Violence Incidents, which addresses hospital incidents reported through the Cal/OSHA online reporting tool.
In the first such report with a full year of data, key findings include:
• 40% of workplace violence incidents occur in inpatient units, while 27% occur in the emergency department and 16% occur in behavioral health units.
• Patients make up the largest percentage of aggressors (93%), followed by a person accompanying the patient (3%).
• Hospitals reported employee injuries in 43% of all incidents. The most common injury type was bruising or abrasion, which constituted 39% of injury incidents.
The report said Cal/OSHA completed 11 inspections related to violent incidents at hospitals during the reporting period.
The American Hospital Association has estimated that proactive and reactive violence response efforts cost U.S. hospitals and health systems approximately $2.7 billion in 2016. The figure includes $280 million related to preparedness and prevention to address community violence; $852 million in unreimbursed medical care for victims of violence; $1.1 billion in security and training costs to prevent violence within hospitals; and an additional $429 million in medical care, staffing, indemnity and other costs as a result of violence against hospital employees.