News & Events

Nurses push for safer workplaces (DS)

By Matt Murphy, Updated: 07/15/2009 06:40:59 AM EDT

BOSTON — Nurses joined supportive lawmakers in Boston yesterday to push for stronger protections against violence in the workplace where they say caregivers are increasingly at risk of assault.

A legislative committee heard testimony on a bill that would create mandatory minimum sentences for assault and battery against a registered nurse who is providing health care.

The bill, heard by the Joint Committee on Judiciary, would send offenders to jail for a minimum of 90 days and up to 2 1/2 years for assaulting a nurse.

"When someone says, ‘How can I help you?’ they don’t deserve to be assaulted," said Sen. Jennifer Flanagan, a Leominster Democrat whose mother works as a life-flight nurse at UMass Memorial Medical Center in Worcester and an emergency-room nurse at HealthAlliance Hospital/Leominster.

The bill has the solid backing of Worcester County District Attorney Joseph Early, who testified in favor of the bill because he believes it will serve as a bigger deterrent than current assault laws.

"Our nurses are pretty much the angels of the floors and when we see so many being assaulted, we have to do something," Early said.

The Massachusetts Nurses Association says nurses and other health professionals are 12 times more likely to suffer violent assaults than workers in other industries.

Citing a survey conducted five years ago by the University of Massachusetts Labor Center in Amherst, the union contends that 50 percent of nurses will be assaulted at least once every two years while on the job.

"This is not fair. This is not just. And this cannot be tolerated," Flanagan said.

Among those testifying yesterday was Carol McGuane, an Ayer resident who said she has been assaulted at least 10 times during her 32-year career as a nurse at HealthAlliance Hospital/Leominster.

McGuane recently won a settlement against a woman who punched her in the face at the hospital last July.

Emergency medical technicians and ambulance drivers are already protected under a law passed in 1989 creating a mandatory minimum 90-day sentence for assault. Nurses were not included in that bill.