As violence against health care professionals continues to grow, Assembly Majority Leader Louis Greenwald and Senator Troy Singleton announced on Thursday their plan to introduce legislation to protect healthcare workers. The “Health Care Heroes Violence Prevention Act” will help protect these employees by increasing penalties for those convicted of threats or violence against health care workers.
Health care workers were already 5 times more likely to suffer a workplace violence injury than other professions before the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated attacks against these professionals. A survey of more than 5,000 registered nurses in September 2021 found that 31 percent of those working in hospitals faced an increase in workplace violence – up from 22 percent earlier in the year.
“If we’ve learned anything from this pandemic, it is that front-line health care workers truly are selfless heroes,” said Majority Leader Greenwald (D-Burlington, Camden). “At the end of the day, these heroes are just people who want to feel safe when they go to work. Yet during the pandemic, we’ve seen a rise in attacks against healthcare workers, making it both difficult and dangerous to do their job. This proposal will strengthen protections for these frontline workers by enhancing penalties and awareness about violence the workplace.”
“For two years, our nurses, doctors and health care professionals have been on the frontline of the COVID pandemic – often putting their own health at risk,” said Senator Singleton (D-Burlington). “Sadly, this figurative battlefield has turned literal, with people physically assaulting these essential workers. This is simply unacceptable. This proposal will send a clear message that our health care workers must be treated with the respect, decency and civility they deserve.”
The measure establishes threats against a health care professional or any worker at a health care facility as a disorderly persons offense, which would be punishable by imprisonment of up to six months and/or a fine of up to $1,000. The bill also calls for additional penalties for assault against these employees by allowing courts to mandate an anger management course or 30 days of community service for defendants.
The proposed legislation is already supported by numerous legislators and health care system leaders throughout New Jersey.
“Protecting healthcare workers is essential to ensuring they can deliver exceptional patient care,” said Assemblywoman Shavonda Sumter (D-Bergen, Passaic), who is joining on as a sponsor of the bill in the Assembly. “At the height of the pandemic, health care workers were on the frontlines risking their own well-being. Yet, they were committed to providing wellness to our communities during the darkest hours. This vital legislation will further ensure their safety. We must ensure that healthcare workers receive necessary support and protection.”
“The leaders of South Jersey health systems are unified in support of this legislation to protect our teams from the growing number of violent encounters in healthcare facilities,” said Kevin O’Dowd, Co-CEO of Cooper University Health Care. “We appreciate Assemblyman Greenwald and Senator Singleton for listening and taking this action.”
“Many of my emergency medicine physician and nursing colleagues across the country have seen too many unfortunate violent incidents against our co-workers,” said Dr. Anthony Mazzarelli, Co-CEO of Cooper University Health Care. “We hope this legislation will work to deter violent behavior in settings dedicated to care and healing.”
“This legislation is critical to protecting health care workers who have put their lives on the line to protect and care for us all over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Assemblywoman Sadaf Jaffer (D-Somerset, Mercer, Middlesex, Hunterdon), who is joining on as a sponsor of the bill in the Assembly. “We must do everything in our power to deter individuals from assaulting or harassing them, and this bill does exactly that.”
“From day one of this pandemic until now, health care workers have been on the front lines just trying to do their jobs while keeping patients and themselves safe from COVID-19,” said Assemblyman Dan Benson (D-Mercer, Middlesex), who is joining on as a sponsor of the bill in the Assembly. “They not only deserve our thanks and respect, they deserve to be protected from anyone intentionally wanting to harm them because of who they are or where they work. They were there for us, now we need to be there for these health care heroes.”
“We are grateful to Assembly Majority Leader Greenwald and State Senator Singleton for taking action to address violence against health care workers,” said Amy Mansue, President and CEO of Inspira Health. “As they work to pass legislation, health care leaders around the country are providing their teams with the training, tools and resources needed to reduce the risk of violence in the health care setting,”
“Our hospital employees truly are health care heroes, who every day save lives, bring comfort, and offer hope,” said Joseph Chirichella, President and CEO of Deborah Heart and Lung Center. “They should never have to worry about aggressive behavior from anyone at work, and protecting them is of utmost importance. It has become especially difficult for our caregivers in the past two years, because in addition to the arduous task of caring for patients during the pandemic, they have also had to serve as ‘de facto’ enforcers of CDC guidelines and NJDOH directives ensuring everyone’s safety and compliance with a myriad of infection control regulations that often changed quickly. We have asked so much of our health care workers; it is essential that we guarantee them a safe place to work.”
“It is essential we provide safety to the well-being of our healthcare personnel because if they are at risk, then their patients and our entire health system is also threatened,” said Assemblyman William Spearman (D-Camden, Gloucester), who was in attendance at the press conference. “We need to protect our health care workers and staff as they continuously protect us.”
“Our health care workers have tirelessly dedicated their time to ensuring the wellbeing of all patients that come into their care. The violence that they have been subjected to in the workplace in unacceptable and we will not stand for it,” said Senator Nilsa Cruz-Perez (D-Camden). “The implementation of this legislation will help the many health care workers who deserve the utmost respect from all patients and hospital visitors. We respect and honor the work that they do, daily.”
“Hospitals are fixtures of their communities, always there with open doors. That can bring the risk of violence,” said Cathy Bennett, President and CEO of the New Jersey Hospital Association. “These threats can arise in a variety of ways, from family conflicts, to gang activity, to a weary and divided population taking their frustrations out on health care workers. It’s a sad and terrible irony that the people devoted to saving lives can become the target of this violence, and we greatly appreciate the focus and leadership on this issue.”
“Passing the Health Care Heroes Violence Prevention Act shows respect and honor to doctors, nurses, techs and all workers in the healthcare field,” said Dr. Tammy Torres, CEO of Salem Medical Center. “It is our hope that this act will help keep violence in the healthcare setting at bay and help to ensure the safety of all health care workers.”
“Rising violence against health care workers is one of the underreported consequences of the pandemic. In fact, we’ve reached a point in which many workers view threats and acts of aggression as ‘just part of the job.’ This is unacceptable and we, as a community, must take a stand to protect all people who dedicate themselves to careers in health care,” said Dennis W. Pullin, FACHE, President and CEO of Virtua Health. “Legislation to provide health care workers with extra protection is the least we can do in exchange for their service and sacrifices over the past two years, and long before.”
“Health care workers selflessly and tirelessly put themselves on the frontlines every day to provide care to the public, and they deserve a workplace free of violence and the threat of violence while performing their duties,” said Senator Fred Madden (D-Camden, Gloucester). “This legislation will ensure health care workers have increased protections by making it a crime to threaten a health care worker and by giving courts discretion to consider additional factors during sentencing and impose additional penalties, among other things.”
“Health care workers are trained professionals providing expert medical care to all members of our communities, and they must be treated with courtesy and respect in the clinical environment,” said Jefferson Health – New Jersey President Brian Sweeney. “They have worked tirelessly and made personal sacrifices to care for our patients throughout the ongoing pandemic. Violence and aggression against healthcare workers in any form is unacceptable. This legislation will strengthen accountability for those who violate these basic human principles, while deterring others from acting inappropriately. It will undoubtedly assist healthcare workers in carrying out their important, and often life-saving work.”
“At Shore Medical Center we support all efforts to help reduce workplace violence,” said Ron Johnson, CEO of Shore Medical Center.
“Our frontline health care workers have always been there to care for us whenever we needed them, especially over these last two years during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Assemblyman Bill Moen (D-Camden, Gloucester). “Now it is our turn to help better protect and care for them. This bill will do just that. I am proud to be a co-sponsor of this bill and commend my colleague, Assembly Majority Leader Louis Greenwald, for introducing this important legislation.”
“Our health care heroes on the front line should never have to be concerned with their personal safety while caring for others,” said Joanne Carrocino, CEO of Cape Regional Health System. “Our thanks to Assembly Majority Leader Greenwald and State Senator Singleton for introducing this important bill to help keep our healthcare heroes safe.”
“We support legislation that enhances protection of all health care workers, including nurses, doctors, security officers and all those working on the frontlines to care for our communities,” said Lori S. Herndon, MBA, BSN, RN, President and CEO of AtlantiCare and Chair of the New Jersey Hospital Association Board. “Caring is at the heart of our profession, and all healthcare workers have the right to work in an environment free of violence or aggressive behavior in any form.”