News & Events

MNA bill to punish perpetrators of workplace violence passes House

Successful MNA “Lobby Day” simultaneously held in State House

From the Massachusetts Nurse Newsletter
April 2010 Edition

View more photos from the Workplace Violence Lobby Day photo gallery

Ellen MacInnis, a nurse from St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center, spoke to the crowd.

The Massachusetts House of Representatives cast a unanimous vote on March 31 to pass legislation that will stiffen the penalties faced by those who assault nurses and other health care workers providing care. This bill is one of a series of measures the MNA has proposed to address the growing problem of workplace violence in health care settings.

“We are thrilled with the 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, MNA president. “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 its support.”

The vote came on the same day when more than 250 nurses, health care professionals and nursing students 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. Their mission was to push for the passage of a package of bills filed by the MNA that are designed to address what has become a growing crisis in the health care sector.

MNA President Donna Kelly-Williams (left) and MNA member Donna Stern listen intently during the lobby day press conference before Stern spoke about her experiences with hospital violence.

“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. S.1753, sponsored by Sen. Michael Moore (D- Mill-bury), and H. 1696, sponsored by Rep. Michael Rodrigues (D-Westport), provides the same increased penalties for those who assault a nurse or health care professional providing treatment,” said Karen Coughlin, MNA vice president, who has been a victim of a number of assaults during her years working at one of the state’s mental health facilities.

Linda Condon, a nurse at Morton Hospital, spoke about her experiences with violence in the workplace.

The day drew extensive media coverage throughout the state, with MNA members telling their stories of being assaulted, putting a human face on the problem. The next day’s Boston Herald opened its story with the following characterization of the MNA’s victory. It read: “They care, they converged, they conquered”—a nice summary of the day.

Donna L. Stern, of Northampton, a registered nurse in a mental health unit at the Baystate Franklin Medical Center in Greenfield, told a packed hearing room how she has been punched, kicked, almost strangled and spit on during her five years as a nurse.

Students from the Mass. College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences were among 100 nursing students who attended the lobby day.

Linda Condon, an emergency department nurse who works at a number of hospitals, told of “being sucker punched in the face” by one patient and, on another occasion, “I was head butted in the face by a patient who I was attempting to hold back as she attempted to kick another colleague who she had thrown to the ground.”

Ellen MacInnis, a nurse at St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center in Brighton, described an incident when she tried to put an IV into a HIV-infected patient. The patient took a swing at MacInnis, dislodging the IV and spraying blood in her face, mouth and eyes. “The hospital is the one place where, when you show up there, we have to take you in. The behavior that we see, in any other place … people would be thrown out,” she said.

MNA members (from left) Kathie Logan, Lynne Starbard, Bill Lahey, Mary Colby (seated), and Vaughn Garabedian (in doorway) meet with Sen. Steve Brewer to talk about the MNA’s violence prevention legislation.

Throughout the day, MNA members and nursing students dressed in their scrubs and lab coats made visits to their legislators to seek their support for the assault bill and two other measures, S.988, which will require health care employers to develop and implement programs to prevent workplace violence, and H.1931, which will create a difficult-to-manage unit in the Department of Mental Health to treat repeat perpetrators of violence. The assault bill now moves to the Senate, while the other measures are making their way through the legislative process.