News & Events

Nurses Impacted by Epidemic of Healthcare Assaults to Testify in Favor of Workplace Violence Prevention Bill on July 18

BOSTON, Mass – During a State House hearing on Thursday, Massachusetts nurses who care for patients in different types of settings and hospitals across the Commonwealth will testify about their experiences with workplace violence and will advocate for legislation to help solve this ongoing crisis.

              What:   A hearing before the Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security on An Act Requiring Health Care Employers to Develop and Implement Programs to Prevent Workplace Violence (S. 1427/H. 1416), filed by Sen. Joan Lovely and Rep. Denise Garlick

              When:    Thursday, July 18 at 9 a.m.

Where:   Room B-1, State House, Boston MA

“An epidemic of healthcare violence is putting patients and providers at risk every day,” said Karen Coughlin, a registered nurse who worked for the Department of Mental Health for 34 years and is vice president of the Massachusetts Nurses Association. “This legislation has broad, bipartisan support, including the backing of frontline nurses across the state. No matter where someone works in health care or where someone seeks care, they deserve to be safe.”

Nurses are assaulted on the job more than police officers and prison guards, with violence against health care workers accounting for nearly as many injuries as in all other industries combined, according to the Occupational Health and Safety Administration. This legislation 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.

The bill also provides time off for health care workers assaulted on the job to address legal issues (up to seven paid days off per calendar year), allows nurses to use their health care facility address instead of their home address to handle legal issues related to an assault, and requires semiannual reporting of assaults on health care employees to District Attorneys.

Front-Line Nurses Testify on Violent Conditions

Aaron Aikin, a nurse at Worcester Recovery Center and Hospital, will testify that as of May 2019, there have been at least 381 assaults on staff reported at WRC over the past three years, including 96 resulting in injuries requiring medical attention. WCVB Channel 5 has been documenting these problems in a series of investigative stories.

“Despite our repeated attempts over the past several years to appeal to the Department of Mental Health and our local hospital administration with our very grave concerns, they have not responded in any adequate way,” Aikin said. “This has allowed the problem to grow even worse. It is unacceptable for any employer to turn a blind eye to dangers that have ended careers and livelihoods.”

Deb Falk, an emergency department nurse at St. Luke’s Hospital in New Bedford, will testify that she has seen and experienced countless acts of violence over 34 years, including when an intoxicated, combative patient was brought in handcuffed by police but left uncuffed in a hospital bed and assaulted Falk.

“At one point, I had my back to the patient and the next thing I knew she hit me and knocked me to the ground,” Falk said. “The pain in my arm where she had made contact was excruciating. I learned later she had hit me with such force, she split my bicep. She also slapped me in the face and injured my back.

“These are not just isolated incidents. Violence is on the rise in healthcare. We need to examine and address this like any other public health crisis. When an assault occurs, we must take it seriously. Advancing this bill is the first step toward helping my colleagues and I address this very real problem.”

Beckett Augat, an overnight emergency department nurse at St. Vincent Hospital in Worcester, will testify that “time and time again” nurses have asked hospital administrators to address violence and have not received the help they need.

“The most recent incident of violence in my emergency department involved a former police officer who threatened to shoot me, the triage nurse and the doctors to whom he made vile racial remarks,” Augat said. “He also threatened to bomb the hospital. I feared for my life.  I feared for my son's future. And my hands shook for hours. … This legislation will ensure that my hospital assesses incidents like this and others and puts measures in place to make sure they do not happen again.”

Facts on Healthcare Violence

  • Nurses and nurses’ aides are assaulted more than police officers and prison guards, according to a 2017 OSHA report.
  • The American College of Emergency Physicians reports nearly 7 out of 10 emergency physicians believe that emergency department violence is increasing and nearly 80% of these physicians acknowledged that these events have taken a toll on patients.
  • A 2016 Massachusetts Nurses Association survey of both union and non-union nurses found that fear of violence and physical and verbal abuse are widespread in Massachusetts health care facilities. More than 85 percent of nurses have been punched, spit on, groped, kicked or otherwise physically or verbally assaulted at some point.
  • A 2015 Center for Disease Control (CDC) report found that injuries associated with workplace violence increased overall from 2012 to 2014 and “nearly doubled for nurses and nurse assistants.” The report then goes on to recommend that hospitals create “injury prevention interventions mitigating high-risk aspects of nurse and nurse assistant duties,” adding that “targeting prevention strategies can protect health care personnel.”

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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.