By Andy Carter
There are some stories that haunt you for a long time.
I’ll never forget one from Laura, a registered nurse, who shared at an event at Lankenau Medical Center about a time one of her patients strangled her.
Or, one from Elizabeth, a registered nurse from Fulton County Medical Center, who recalled times when she was hit, had objects thrown at her, was cornered in rooms, and was verbally assaulted.
For years, I’ve heard harrowing accounts like these: of assaults, threats of stalking, or some form of harm. They are hard to imagine, and even harder to forget.
Hospital staff have shared with us a recent uptick in the instances of violence against them, triggered by increases in stress, pain, anger, behavioral health issues, and substance use as major contributing factors.
There’s research to back this up, too.
While health care workers—like the nurses and physicians at your local hospital—comprise only 13 percent of the United States workforce, 60 percent of workplace assaults occur in health care. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health recently reported a 72 percent increase in the rate of workplace violence injuries in places like hospitals.
And nurses such as Laura and Elizabeth are among those at the greatest risk of attacks and threats of future violence.
Nurses come in frequent and close contact with many patients throughout their shift. They are required by law to have their full names prominently placed on their badges, making it very easy for anyone to remember. Nurses’ name badges are making them an easy target for in-person or online stalking, since anyone can do a quick social media or internet search and find out personal information.
Pennsylvania’s hospitals employ tens of thousands of people who are more than caregivers; they’re our friends, family, and neighbors. We need to make sure our hospitals can retain these excellent professionals. We can’t afford to drive them away because they don’t feel safe at work.
Currently, there are two bills in the state Legislature that will go a long way to help.
One bill raises the penalty for assaulting a health care worker while performing a job duty from a misdemeanor to a felony. This plan is found in Senate Bill 351, offered by champion Sen. Judy Ward, R-Blair, and its companion, House Bill 1879, offered by Rep. Keith Gillespie, R-York.
The second removes the requirement in Pennsylvania law that hospitals include health care staff’s last name on their identification badges.
This plan is found in House Bill 39, offered by Rep. Pam Snyder, D-Greene, and its companions Senate Bill 842, offered by Sen. Kristin Phillips-Hill, R-York, and House Bill 1880, also sponsored by Gillespie. Removing a last name can make all the difference in giving our nurses the safety and security they need to focus on delivering excellent care.
Our legislative leaders encounter hundreds of issues each session, and sometimes consensus can be hard to reach. So, when plans come along that make sense and have bipartisan support, we sit up and take notice.
The charge of these bills is simple: protect our nurses and health care staff from workplace assaults and stalking. They take care of people at their most vulnerable time, and work to keep them safe.
The least we can do is protect them from violence. The Hospital and Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania — and the hospital community — have been drawing attention to this critical issue, and we need your help to get these bills over the finish line.
Please call your lawmakers and tell them to pass these bills and protect your community’s nurses from violence and threats.
Andy Carter is the president and CEO of The Hospital and Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania. He writes from Harrisburg.