BOSTON, Mass – State lawmakers on Tuesday will hear testimony in favor of legislation that addresses an epidemic of violence against Massachusetts health care professionals. Registered nurses, public safety officials and other advocates will share their experiences with violence in health care and describe why a new state law is needed to prevent assaults.
What: A hearing before the Joint Labor and Workforce Development Committee on An Act Requiring Health Care Employers to Develop and Implement Programs to Prevent Workplace Violence (H. 1007), sponsored by Sen. James Timilty, D-Walpole, and Rep. Denise Garlick, D-Needham.
When: Tuesday, April 4 at 1 p.m.
Where: Room A2, State House, Boston MA
Who: Registered nurses who have been victims of assault; Rep. Garlick, former president of the MNA; Rep. Timothy Whelan, R-Brewster, a former Massachusetts State Trooper, U.S. Marine and Corrections Officer; Worcester County District Attorney Joseph Early; various other supporters and health care advocates
Why: Learn more about the problem directly from Massachusetts nurses: MNA Workplace Violence Survey Fact Sheet
“Health care professionals are being assaulted at a rate four times greater than those working in other industries,” said Donna Kelly-Williams, RN, president of the Massachusetts Nurses Association. “Fear of violence and actual violence is rampant in Massachusetts health care facilities. It is clear the laws we have in place are not enough to stop the violence. A hospital should be a place where patients go to heal and nurses and other health care professionals are able to provide care in a safe environment.”
Nurses are assaulted on the job more than police officers and prison guards, with more than 70 percent of hospital emergency department nurses reporting being assaulted during their career. An Act Requiring Health Care Employers to Develop and Implement Programs to Prevent Workplace Violence (H. 1007) will require health care 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.
The bill also provides time off for health care workers assaulted on the job to address legal issues (up to seven paid days off per calendar year), allows nurses to use their health care facility address instead of their home address when addressing legal issues related to an assault, and requires semiannual reporting of assaults on health care employees to District Attorney’s Offices.
Miko Nakagawa is a registered nurse who was assaulted in January 2017 while working in the emergency department at Health Alliance Hospital Leominster.
“An aggressive patient who had already assaulted two other staff members violently shoved me over a stretcher and onto the floor when we were moving him to another room,” Nakagawa said. “The assault left me with a horrible, deep bruise on my arm and a rotator cuff injury. I had surgery and have been out of work recovering from my injuries for three months.”
“The culture needs to change in healthcare,” Nakagawa said. “I was the only one of the three of us who pressed charges. It was hard to even get the other assaulted nurse to file an accident report. Nurses have been told for so long you have signed up for the job and that this is what happens in the profession you chose. But we did not sign up for unchecked violence and neither did our patients. When violence is so widespread, it endangers not just staff but everyone at the hospital – patients and visitors included. This legislation will go a long way toward changing that culture and preventing violence. The more protection and support health care professionals have, the less violence there will be in health care.”
A recent Massachusetts Nurses Association survey of more than 220 union and non-union nurses found that fear of violence and physical and verbal abuse are widespread in Massachusetts health care facilities. More than 85 percent of nurses have been punched, spit on, groped, kicked or otherwise physically or verbally assaulted. Yet only 19 percent of nurses say their employer was supportive and tried to find solutions after they experienced violence, while 76 percent said existing workplace violence policies are not enforced.
A 2015 report from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) found that between 2012 and 2014 incidents of violence “nearly doubled for nurses and nurse assistants.” Violence against health care workers accounts for nearly as many injuries as in all other industries combined, according to the Occupational Health and Safety Administration.
Top public safety officials have joined the fight to prevent health care violence and endorsed the legislation, including Worcester County District Attorney Joseph Early and Northwestern District Attorney David Sullivan.
“I believe that law enforcement best serves our citizens when we are dedicated to crime prevention,” DA Early said. “To effectively tackle health care violence in Massachusetts, we need to understand the full scope of the problem. This legislation will enable District Attorneys across the Commonwealth to track assaults in health care facilities and work with nurses, other health care professionals and their advocates to limit violence and reduce harm.”
Founded in 1903, the Massachusetts Nurses Association is the largest union of registered nurses in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Its 23,000 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 health care issues affecting nurses and the public.