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Nurses, Advocates to Testify in Favor of Strengthened Penalties for Assaulting Healthcare Workers During May 16 State House Hearing

Bill making assaults against healthcare workers a felony is part of a larger effort to improve violence prevention in healthcare facilities

BOSTON, Mass – Lawmakers will hold a hearing at the State House on Tuesday, May 16 on legislation that would strengthen the penalties for assaulting a healthcare worker – part of a comprehensive effort by nurses and healthcare professionals to address an epidemic of violence in Massachusetts healthcare facilities.

The bill, sponsored by Senator Mike Brady and Representative John Mahoney and supported by the Massachusetts Nurses Association, would increase the penalties for assaulting emergency medical technicians, ambulance operators, ambulance attendants and other healthcare providers, including nurses, and make it a felony punishable by up to five years in state prison.

“Violence in healthcare has been an epidemic for many years, and the COVID-19 pandemic put healthcare workers at even greater risk for harm,” said MNA President and ICU nurse Katie Murphy. “Passing this bill to strengthen the penalty for assaulting a nurse or healthcare worker would represent a significant step toward addressing the menace of workplace violence.”

Legislative Hearing Details

What: Legislative hearing for An Act Strengthening the Penalty for Assault or Assault and Battery on an Emergency Medical Technician, Ambulance Operator, Ambulance Attendant or Health Care Provider (S.906/H.1657), sponsored by Senator Mike Brady and Representative John Mahoney.

Where: Virtually and in Room A-2, State House, Boston MA. Virtual hearing access for media/public: Link will go live for the video shortly before the hearing.

When: Tuesday, May 16, 2023

Who: Registered nurses from across the Commonwealth who have been assaulted or who have experienced workplace violence; State lawmakers who co-sponsored the bill.

Among those testifying about their experiences will be a Brigham and Women’s Hospital emergency department nurse, and an emergency department nurse from Good Samaritan Medical Center, where an assault took place on May 12 following a stabbing outside Brockton High School, according to media reports.

The Problem: Assaults on Healthcare Workers are Frequent and Violent

  • A new White Paper published by the MNA uses hospital data reported to OSHA to show the spike in injury and illness among healthcare workers in 2020. Nurses in particular saw an exceptionally large increase in the number of injuries and illnesses, up from roughly 1,500 in 2017 to 3,420 in 2020.
  • Healthcare 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.
  • During the pandemic, WBUR reported that two to three Massachusetts General Hospital nurses are assaulted every day.

A growing number of nurses fear violence in their workplace and view it as a serious problem, according to the 2023 “State of Nursing in Massachusetts.” The threat is even more dire among nurses in direct care at hospitals.

  • 24% of nurses said they do not feel safe in their workplace, an increase from 9% of nurses in 2019 and 17% in 2021.
  • 63% of nurses said workplace violence and abuse is a serious problem, up from 42% in 2021.
  • 76% of nurses in direct care at a teaching hospital said workplace violence and abuse is a serious problem.
  • 79% of nurses in direct care at a community hospital said workplace violence and abuse is a serious problem.

Additional Legislative Solutions for Healthcare Workplace Violence

  • An Act Requiring Health Care Employers to Develop and Implement Programs to Prevent Workplace Violence (S.1539/H.2330) would require healthcare 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.
  • An Act Providing Safeguards for Home Healthcare Workers, (S.1472/H.2128), would require safety assessments of all home healthcare settings prior to services being provided, including psychiatric/psychological/emotional status of patients and any other individuals who may be present. Home healthcare providers would be empowered to leave dangerous situations without loss of pay or disciplinary action and would be provided time off for healthcare workers assaulted on the job to address legal issues.

Why Nurses and Healthcare Workers Need Increased Penalties

  • More than half of workplace assaults in healthcare settings go unreported. Nurses and other healthcare 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 healthcare 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.

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Founded in 1903, the Massachusetts Nurses Association is the largest union of registered nurses in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Its 25,000 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 healthcare issues affecting nurses and the public.