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Bipartisan measure aims to protect hospital workers from violence | Bills and Laws

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Advocates want healthcare workers to get federal protection, similar to airline employees. Healthcare leaders say more doctors, nurses and other staffers have been attacked in recent years.

The skinny

Lawmakers in Congress are pushing legislation designed to reduce attacks on healthcare workers, which has been a growing problem in recent years.

U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W. Va., left, and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., have sponsored a bill to make it a federal crime to assault hospital workers. (Photos: U.S. Senate)

U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W. Va., left, and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., have sponsored a bill to make it a federal crime to assault hospital workers. (Photos: U.S. Senate)

Sponsors

U.S. Sens. Joe Manchin, a Democrat from West Virginia, and Marco Rubio, a Republican from Florida, are the main sponsors of the bill.

Summary

Under the legislation, dubbed the Safety from Violence for Healthcare Employees (SAVE) Act, anyone attacking or intimidating hospital workers could face tougher penalties from law enforcement. For the first time, hospital employees would gain additional federal protections, similar to the protections for airline employees.

Lawmakers say the bill contains safeguards for individuals who are mentally incapacitated or suffering from substance use. The sponsors said the legislation is aimed at those intentionally attacking hospital workers.

“This legislation would create a safer working environment for hospital staff, deter violent behavior, and make sure that assailants are appropriately held accountable,” Manchin said in a statement.

“The SAVE Act would provide much-needed protections for our healthcare workers,” Rubio said.

Supporters

Advocacy groups for hospitals, doctors and nurses have been clamoring for greater federal protections for healthcare employees.

Rick Pollack, president and CEO of the American Hospital Association, said in a statement, “The sharp rise in violence against caregivers is clearly documented, yet no federal law exists to protect them. Enactment of this bipartisan legislation would be a significant step forward in protecting our workforce.”

Christopher S. Kang, president of the American College of Emergency Physicians, has said more emergency doctors are being assaulted. In a September 2022 survey, the group found most doctors said violence is rising and it’s affecting patient care.

“Violence in the emergency department is escalating, threatening the health and safety of physicians, nurses, health care workers, and our patients,” Kang said in a statement supporting the bill. “ED violence exacerbates the severe burnout affecting emergency care teams and can lead health care workers to leave an already strained workforce.”

Bruce Siegel, president and CEO of America’s Essential Hospitals, urged the Senate to pass the legislation.“An increase in violence against health care workers has burdened a workforce already under immense stress from labor shortages and burnout,” he said in a statement.

Perspective

Some states have approved measures to impose stiffer penalties for those who attack healthcare workers, but supporters say it’s critical to have legislation passed at the federal level.

Lawmakers have introduced similar bills in the past, but they didn’t get through Congress. Some advocates say they see a better opportunity in the current legislative session, particularly as attacks against hospital and healthcare workers have escalated.

A similar bill has been introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives. U.S. Reps. Madeleine Dean, D-Pa., and Larry Bucshon, R-Ind., have sponsored that legislation. They also put forward a similar bill in the last congressional session.

Some attacks on healthcare workers have been deadly. In July, a security guard named Bobby Smallwood was shot and killed at Legacy Good Samaritan Medical Center in Portland, Oregon. Earlier that month, Ben Mauck, a hand surgeon, was fatally shot in the Campbell Clinic outside Memphis, Tenn.

While those fatal shootings have gained national attention, doctors and nurses say many attacks in hospitals have become commonplace and gain little notice. More than two nurses are assaulted every hour, and 57 assaults take place each day, according to a report from Press Ganey.

Terry Foster, the president of the Emergency Nurses Association, has endorsed the bill. In a recent interview with Chief Healthcare Executive®, Foster, who has spent 45 years in nursing, shared his perspective on attacks on healthcare workers.

“Violence in the emergency department for nurses is a tremendous problem,” Foster says. “It's something that I've never seen before at this level. And especially since COVID, there is a level of incivility that is very troubling to me, and I don't know where it came from, I honestly don't.”

This is a new, ongoing series looking at legislation that affects hospitals and the healthcare industry. If you have suggestions for measures worthy of attention, email Ron Southwick, senior editor: [email protected].


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