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Massachusetts House Passes Bill to Stiffen Penalties for Those Who Assault Nurses and Other Health Care Providers

Unanimous Vote Comes as More Than 250 Nurses Flooded the State House Pushing for Passage of Legislation to Curtail Increasing Incidents of Workplace Violence Against Health Care Workers

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BOSTON, MA – The Massachusetts House of Representatives cast a unanimous vote today to pass legislation which will stiffen the penalties of those who assault nurses and other health care workers, one of a series of measures the state’s nurses are proposing to address the growing problem of workplace violence in health care settings.

“We are thrilled with today’s vote and the message it sends, that being assaulted is not acceptable, and health care workers need to be protected as they do their jobs,” said Donna Kelly-Williams, President of the MNA. “This is an important first step in our effort to make health care settings safer for nurses and for patients and we thank the House for their support today.” 

The vote came on a day when more than 250 nurses from across the Commonwealth, many of whom are the victims of workplace violence, converged at the State House for a press conference and lobby day, where they pushed for passage of a package of bills filed by the Massachusetts Nurses Association that are designed to address what has become a growing crisis in the health care sector.

“Patients, family members and others must get the message that violence against health care workers will be treated seriously. Several years ago, the legislature increased the penalties for assaulting an emergency medical technician while providing treatment. SB 1753, sponsored by Senator Michael Moore, and HB 1696, sponsored by Rep. Michael Rodrigues, provides the same increased penalties for those who assault a nurse or health care professional providing treatment.”

A June 2008 study showed that workers in the healthcare sector are 16 times more likely to be confronted with violence on the job than any other service profession. A study by the Emergency Nurses Association in the spring of 2007 found that more than half of emergency nurses reported experiencing physical violence on the job. In a 2004 survey of Massachusetts nurses, 50 percent indicated they had been punched at least once in the last two years, and 25-30 percent were regularly pinched, scratched or spit on or had their hand twisted. In fact, nurses are assaulted at work on a par with police officers and prison guards. Yet most hospitals and health care employers in the state fail to adequately address the issue of workplace violence and very often provide little or no support to employees who are attacked on the job.

Throughout the day, nurses dressed in their scrubs and lab coats made visits to their legislators to seek their support for the Assault Bill and two other measures; SB988 which will require health care employers to develop and implement programs to prevent workplace violence; and HB1931 which will create a special difficult to manage unit in the Department of Mental Health to treat repeat perpetrators of violence. The assault bill now moves onto the Senate, while the other two measures are making their way through the legislative process.