Attacks on healthcare workers should be felonies, hospital CEO says

A nurse was assaulted by a patient’s family member in a Louisiana hospital. Nurses have said they’ve faced more threats of violence during the COVID-19 pandemic.

After a nurse was attacked, the chief executive of a Louisiana hospital system wants assaults on healthcare systems to be treated as felonies.

The nurse in the intensive care unit was assaulted by a member of a patient's family, according to a statement from Ochsner Health. The incident happened in the system’s West Bank campus in Gretna, just outside New Orleans.

No arrests have been made, according to WBRZ television and other local media reports.

Healthcare workers have said they’ve endured more assaults and abusive behavior during the COVID-19 pandemic. Warner Thomas, president and CEO of Ochsner Health, said there should be stiff penalties for attacking healthcare workers.

“There is nothing more important to us than the safety and security of our employees and our patients. Workplace violence in any form – physical, verbal, non-verbal or emotional – is unacceptable, and we will not tolerate this behavior,” Thomas said in the statement.

“Workplace violence against healthcare workers has been escalating throughout the pandemic and has reached a point that legislation needs to be considered to make this violence a felony. This consideration under review by a Louisiana task force comes as U.S. hospitals grapple with an increase in disruptive or violent incidents in hospitals — many involving hostile visitors – adding further stress to the healthcare workplace.”

Thomas said the system is cooperating with the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office. “We will press charges against the assailant to the full extent of the law,” Thomas said.

Thomas said security staff and local law enforcement responded swiftly after the assault. He also said the system is taking other steps.

“Ochsner has dispatched additional security officers and police detail across the health system, and we are focused on providing counseling services and additional support to our employees during this time,” Thomas said.

Nurses say they have been threatened and assaulted over the course of the pandemic and said more attention must be paid to safety.

Earlier this month, nurses spoke out on Twitter about their stress during the pandemic, including the risks of being assaulted. One nurse wrote, “Every nurse I know has been assaulted, used as literal punching bags,” adding, “We deserve more security and support.”

Early Sunday, a patient was arrested for attacking a nurse at Utah Valley Hospital in Provo, KSL TV reported. Authorities said the patient grabbed the nurses’s throat and also dug her nails into the nurse’s neck.

National Nurses United, a union representing nurses, said they are increasingly concerned about their safety. A poll in September 2021 found 31% of registered nurses who were surveyed said they faced a small or significant increase in workplace violence, up from 22% compared to a poll in March 2021.

The International Association for Healthcare Security & Safety released a report on Jan. 19 that found an uptick in assaults during 2020. The group found there were 14.2 simple assaults per 100 beds, up from 10.9 in 2019. The report also found 1.7 violent crimes per 100 beds, up from 1.4 the previous year.

In the spring, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Workplace Violence Prevention for Health Care and Social Service Workers Act (H.R. 1195). The bill, which passed the House with bipartisan support, would require healthcare and social service providers to develop workplace violence prevention plans. It would also employers to provide more training and submit annual reports of violent incidents to the U.S. Department of Labor.

The White House said last spring it supports the bill, but the measure hasn’t yet to be voted on by the Senate.