By Chris Woods and Matt Yarnell
Every day they risk their lives so that you and I can be safe. But are we doing enough to ensure nurses and other caregivers are safe and protected?
Our healthcare workers have been holding Pennsylvania together during COVID-19. And while workers have demanded and clamored for more Personal Protective Equipment during this pandemic, other unaddressed dangers, like workplace violence, remain a constant threat.
Nurses and other workers in healthcare settings are subjected to serious workplace violence at a rate four times higher than any other industry according to the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) – more often than police officers, social workers, and teachers.
While that is startling, it is even more shocking that from 2012 to 2015, there was a 72 percent increase in workplace violence injuries at Occupational Health Safety Network hospitals. Though nurses only constitute 13 percent of the workforce, healthcare settings are home to 60 percent of workplace assaults, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.
State Sen. Kristin Phillips-Hill, R-York, is sponsoring legislation that will help. The bill, now before the Senate Appropriations Committee, would allow healthcare workers to display just their first names on their photo ID badges. Current law requires both first and last name.
This seemingly small change can make a huge difference, by making nurses and other caregivers – the majority of whom are women – less traceable outside of their workplaces. This means less harassment and greater safety at home, in the community and online.
In an online poll, 97 percent of healthcare workers indicated overwhelming support for this law. They shared stories of being stalked and harassed by the very people to whom they provide care. Earlier this year a nurse from Pittsburgh spoke with elected leaders in Harrisburg. The family of one of her patients found her on Facebook, called her ethnic slurs, and began harassing her online and contacting her family members.
You can imagine how this makes nurses and others feel, as if this pandemic wasn’t enough.
Phillip-Hill’s bill, SB842, provides a simple change to protect these vulnerable workers. Healthcare facilities are supposed to be safe places. Patients have an expectation that the people caring for them will keep them safe and make sure they are as healthy as possible. But our essential healthcare workers need protection too.
We urge all of the members of the Pennsylvania General Assembly to vote yes on passing this bill during session.
Chris Woods is the president of District 1199c. Matt Yarnell is president of SEIU. The two unions represent a combined 62,000 healthcare workers across Pennsylvania.