(TRENTON) – Incidence of violence against health care workers has increased over the past few years including acts of shouting, calling them derogatory terms, spitting at them, and even physically attacking them. The health care and social services industries experience the highest rates of injuries caused by workplace violence and are five times more likely to be injured as a result of workplace violence than the average private-sector worker.
“We could have not gone through the last two years without the dedication of our frontline healthcare workers. They are truly heroes in this pandemic. Unfortunately, these frontline healthcare heroes have reported a dramatic increase in violent acts since 2020,” said Greenwald (D-Burlington, Camden). “These repeated acts of violence against our health care heroes is simply just unacceptable. This proposal will strengthen protections for these frontline workers by enhancing penalties and awareness about violence in the workplace.”
Assembly Democrats Louis Greenwald, Shavonda Sumter, Sadaf Jaffer, Lisa Swain, and Dan Benson sponsor the “Health Care Heroes Violence Prevention Act”. The bill (A-3199) would expand the aggravating circumstances courts consider in sentencing a defendant to include whether the defendant committed the offense against a worker employed by a licensed health care facility or professional while engaged in their professional duties.
The measure was approved by the Assembly Law and Public Safety Committee on Monday.
“While Health care employees are superheroes, we must remember that they are human and are deserving of decency and respect. Health care employees are faced with the difficult task of taking care of patients while also having to carry the burden of what certain patients may say or do,” said Sumter (D-Bergen, Passaic). “Many advocates believe that cases of violence are likely much higher than reported, which is alarming. Health care professionals should feel safe as they perform their duties and feel encouraged to report mistreatment.”
Over 73% of health care workers experience physical violence or verbal abuse while taking care of patients.
“This is not simply an issue regarding patients. Often, families and friends cause physical or verbal harm to health care professionals and need to know there will be consequences for their actions,” said Jaffer (D-Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex, Somerset). “We must address the increase in violence by increasing penalties for those who commit offenses against health care workers.”
“Often in these settings and given the situation, people can become emotional and may act irrationally,” said Swain (D-Bergen, Passaic). “Requiring proper signage would ensure people are aware that it is a crime to assault nurses and others taking care of patients.”
Currently, aggravating circumstances include defendants who have committed an offense against a law enforcement officer, correctional officer, or firefighter while in uniform or exhibiting his or her authority. This measure would expand aggravating circumstances to include any worker employed by a licensed health care facility engaged in professional duties.
“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 Benson (Mercer, Middlesex). “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.”
The measure now heads to the Speaker for further consideration.