BOSTON, Mass – State lawmakers will hold a hearing at the State House on Tuesday, July 11 on legislation that will strengthen the penalties for assaulting a health care worker while also streamlining how victims of health care workplace violence are able to use the justice system.
The bill – S.765/H.795 – has been endorsed by the Massachusetts District Attorneys Association and will increase the penalty for assaulting emergency medical technicians, ambulance operators, ambulance attendants or health care providers such as registered nurses from a misdemeanor to a felony, punishable by either up to two-and-a-half years in jail or not more than five years in state prison.
“Health care professionals are being assaulted at a rate four times greater than those working in other industries,” said Donna Kelly-Williams, RN, president of the Massachusetts Nurses Association. “Fear of violence and actual violence is rampant in Massachusetts health care facilities. An assault on a nurse is a serious action and should be taken seriously by our judicial system.”
What: Legislative hearing for S.765/H.795 before the Joint Judiciary Committee. Sponsored by Sen. Michael Brady, D-Brockton, and Rep. Denise Garlick, D-Needham.
Where: Room A-1, State House, Boston MA.
When: Tuesday, July 11, 1 p.m.
Who: Registered nurses from across the Commonwealth who have been assaulted or who have experienced workplace violence; State lawmakers who co-sponsored the bill; representatives from the Professional Firefighters of Massachusetts and the Massachusetts District Attorneys Association.
Sheila Wilson, a registered nurse and longtime advocate for workplace violence prevention, originally filed the legislation in a previous term. Wilson’s non-profit organization, Stop Healthcare Violence, and the MNA’s efforts were highlighted in a Boston Globe column by Bella English on Sunday, July 9.
The Problem: Assaults on health care workers are frequent and violent.
- Health care workers experience the most non-fatal workplace violence as compared to other professions, accounting for nearly 70% of all non-fatal workplace assaults, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
- More than 80% of emergency department nurses have been the victim of workplace violence, according to the Emergency Nurses Association.
- In Massachusetts, nearly 75% of nurses surveyed reported that violence was a “serious” or “somewhat serious” problem in their workplace, according to a survey of all Massachusetts nurses by the MNA.
One part of the solution: Increase the penalties for assaulting health care providers.
- In 2010, the MNA helped to pass a law strengthening the penalties for assaulting a health care provider. S.765/H.795 would further strengthen those penalties, making an assault on a health care provider such as a nurse, doctor, EMT or ambulance operator, a felony and punishable by either up to 2.5 years in jail or not more than 5 years in state prison.
- The MNA is also advocating at the State House for An Act Requiring Health Care Employers to Develop and Implement Programs to Prevent Workplace Violence (H. 1007) that will require health care employers to perform an annual safety risk assessment and, based on those findings, develop and implement programs to minimize the danger of workplace violence to employees and patients.
Why we need increased penalties.
- More than half of workplace assaults in health care settings go unreported. Nurses and other health care providers often do not pursue charges when they do not feel the assault is taken seriously by their employer or the judicial system.
- Under current law, police officers cannot arrest an assailant if they do not personally witness an assault on a health care provider. Under this bill, they would be empowered to arrest on the spot whether or not the officer personally witnesses the assault.
- Felony charges would eliminate the step of a nurse having to appear before a Court Magistrate to determine whether or not a case against an assailant will proceed.
Founded in 1903, the Massachusetts Nurses Association is the largest union of registered nurses in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Its 23,000 members advance the nursing profession by fostering high standards of nursing practice, promoting the economic and general welfare of nurses in the workplace, projecting a positive and realistic view of nursing, and by lobbying the Legislature and regulatory agencies on health care issues affecting nurses and the public.