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Media Coverage of Nurses’ Assault Protection Bill Hearing: State House News Service, Violence Against Nurses Carries Special Penalties Under Bill

Health care advocates and state officials said Tuesday afternoon they support legislation stiffening penalties against people who commit violence against nurses.

The bill (H 1700), sponsored by Rep. Michael Rodrigues (D-Westport), would punish those who assault a medical staff, including nurses, by imprisonment for not less than 90 days and a fine of not less than $500.

"They are the people who show the compassion for us. It is incumbent upon us to make sure their workplace is safe," said Joseph Early Jr., Worcester County District Attorney, who testified in favor of the bill during a Judiciary Committee hearing. Early said 48 percent of all non-fatal assaults in the U.S. workplace are committed by health care patients.

In response to a 2004 survey of Massachusetts nurses, 50 percent indicated they had been punched at least once over the past two years, said Early.

Between May 2006 and May 2007, there were more than 1,000 phone calls to 911 from inside Brockton Hospital, said Early.

Former trauma nurse Rep. Jennifer Callahan (D-Sutton) also testified in support of the bill and said she was strangled with her own stethoscope by another patient.

Charlene Richardson, 17-year nursing veteran, testified in favor of the bill because she was "brutally sexually assaulted" by a patient in March 2003. "I am frustrated because for some reason it’s okay to be assaulted on the job when you are a nurse. Well it’s not. I’ve been destroyed by this," said Richardson, who specializes in critical care at two North Shore hospitals and is a representative of the Massachusetts Nurses Association.