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Media Coverage of Nurses’ Assault Protection Bill Hearing: BostonNOW, Nurses look for protection

Seeking to combat assaults on health care workers, advocates yesterday lobbied lawmakers for tougher penalties for those attack medical providers.

The bill would expand current state law by specifically adding registered nurses and other health care workers. Patients convicted of assault could receive a fine of $500 to $5,000 or up to two-and-a-half years behind bars.

A patient suffering from a heroin overdose punched emergency room nurse Patricia Duggan several times in the head and neck before being restrained. The patient was not charged with assault.

"Maybe if the penalties for this crime were enhanced, the situation would have been treated more seriously and charges would have been filed when patients behaved like this," Duggan told to the Joint Committee on Judiciary.

At the hearing, Worcester County District Attorney Joseph Early testified in support of the measure.

"It is incumbent on us to make sure [health care workers] needs are taken care of," he said.

Andi Mullin, legislative director for the Massachusetts Nurses Association, a backer of the bill, said "unfortunately, hospitals are increasingly violent workplaces, both for employees and for patients."

Numbers tell the story

  • According to a report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, health care patients commit 48 percent of all non-fatal assaults in United States workplaces.
  • The U.S. Department of Labor says health care workers suffer violent assaults at a rate 12 times higher than other industries.
  • A 2004 survey of Massachusetts nurses by the Norfolk County District Attorney’s Office found 50 percent said they had been punched at least once in the last two years, and 25-30 percent were regularly pinched, scratched, spit on or had their hand and wrist twisted.