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Democratic senator introduces bill to stem attacks on healthcare workers

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WASHINGTON — Emergency nurses and physicians gathered outside the Capitol building on Wednesday to raise awareness of the threats and physical assaults they encounter on the job and to voice support for a bill that aims to help to prevent such violence and to create an environment where such incidents are not tolerated.

Among the many healthcare workers at the press conference was Todd Haines, RN, BSN, chairman of the state board of the Tennessee Emergency Nurses Association. Haines has a well-trimmed beard, wears a cross in one ear, and is about the height of your average NFL linebacker. Before becoming a nurse, he worked in law enforcement, he said.

“Despite my short stature,” Haines joked, “I have been verbally and physically assaulted more times in my 12 years as a nurse than in my 10 years in law enforcement,” he told a group of nurses, doctors, congressmen, staffers and reporters. According to a report 2016 of the Office of Government Accountability.

Todd Haines, RN, BSN, State Board Chairman of the Tennessee Emergency Nurses Association

Almost half (47%) of emergency doctors have been “physically injured” on the job, according to a survey 2018 of the American College of Emergency Physicians. And about 7 in 10 respondents said violence was increasing. With the pandemic, violence in hospitals continues to increase, in part due to measures such as visitation restrictions adopted in the name of safety. About 31% of hospital nurses said they had witnessed an increase in workplace violence during the pandemic, according to a National Nurses United survey.

The “Workplace Violence Prevention Act for Health and Social Workers“directs the Secretary of Labor, through the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, to require employers to “develop and implement workplace violence prevention plans that focus on workers and complete,” noted a flier about the bill prepared by the Association of Emergency Nurses.

Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), the author of the bill, said she plans to expedite the legislation through the Senate. She described the bill as one that will “provide long-awaited safety protections and standards for our health and social care workers – promoting a healthy environment that is good for workers and those they serve.”

The legislation, due to be introduced later Wednesday, also calls on workplaces to “adopt proven prevention techniques” and ensure facilities are ready to respond “in the tragic event of a violent incident.” A companion bill drafted by Rep. Joe Courtney (D-Conn.) passed the House in April 2021.

Another speaker at the press conference, Jennifer Casaletto, MD, president of the North Carolina College of Emergency Physicians, recalled back-to-back violent incidents at nearby hospitals in January 2022 that resulted in serious injury and one death.

During his own encounter with an angry patient, Casaletto recalls “instinctively” feeling his stethoscope and dropping it to the floor, lest it be used to strangle him.

In another incident, Casaletto saw a patient in her 60s pacing and screaming in the emergency department – ​​she saw a nurse silently slipping to the phone to call 911 while another tried to close all the doors. doors and curtains of other patients’ rooms. She recalled a third “brave nurse” who intentionally caught the agitated man’s attention and was hit with an IV pole in the process. “As in over 95% of these hospital abuse cases, no charges were laid,” she said.

Her husband gave her an ultimatum to quit her job or wear a Kevlar vest to work. It was a ‘long time‘ before she felt safe enough to work at a community hospital again, but Casaletto said she was grateful her own facility had significantly improved its safety protocols, she s therefore felt safe on her return.

Haines, who was often called upon to manage aggressive or agitated patients, said MedPage today after the press conference he saw an opportunity to leave bedside nursing and took it. He now works as the director of trauma services for a community hospital in Tennessee.

He explained that Baldwin’s bill is not intended to target all patients. “This legislation is not for 92-year-old Alzheimer’s patients who threaten to kick your ass, when they know they can’t get out of bed,” he said. . MedPage today. “We’re only talking about mean people. People who … know there’s no repercussions” for hurting a healthcare worker, he said.

“I’m a strong supporter of signage,” he added. “If we have a sign in the ER that says, ‘It’s illegal to assault a healthcare worker, you’ll be arrested, you’ll be prosecuted’, I think that would make people stop and think about it a bit. more. “

Haines said he felt guilty for leaving staff behind, especially with the arrival of a wave of new nurses who may not be able to handle “tense or angry situations”.

“We put them in an environment that’s sort of ‘sink or swim’ [situation] because everyone is so busy trying to take care of their own patients,” he said.

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    Shannon Firth has reported on health policy as MedPage Today’s Washington correspondent since 2014. She is also a member of the site’s Enterprise & Investigative Reporting team. To follow