April 24, 2024
Protecting nurses from violence
Health care workers are five times as likely as other workers to be injured by violence in the workplace, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Photo: iStock

Protecting nurses from violence
Jennifer Segur, left, CNO at AdventHealth North Pinellas, and a representative of Baptist Health stand with state Rep. Kim Berfield, who championed a bill stiffening penalties for those who assault hospital workers.

Photo: AdventHealth West Florida

Economic Backbone: Nursing

Protecting Nurses from Violence

Mike Brassfield | 11/30/2023

The head of the Florida Nurses Association vividly remembers the first time a patient attacked her. He kicked Willa Fuller in the chest, knocking the wind out of her and disorienting her for the rest of the day.

Other nurses have had it worse. Jennifer Segur, chief nursing officer at AdventHealth North Pinellas, got kicked in the abdomen by a patient when she was five months pregnant. And in 2021, a pregnant nurse at Orlando Health South Seminole Hospital lost her unborn child when a patient slammed her against a wall.

Now a new Florida law aims to protect nurses from workplace violence. The law, which went into effect Oct. 1, stiffens criminal penalties for anyone who assaults nurses or other hospital workers.

Violent attacks against medical professionals have risen in recent years. Health care workers are five times as likely as other workers to be injured by violence in the workplace, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. In fact, a 2020 BLS study found that health care workers account for 73% of all nonfatal workplace injuries due to violence — a rate that has grown noticeably since 2011, the first year the bureau began using its current classification system for such incidents.

“Unfortunately, we are seeing increasing levels of violence, anger and intimidation directed towards our physicians and nurses, to the point where it has become intolerable for some,” Daniel Podberesky, vice president and chief medical officer at Nemours Children’s Hospital, Florida in Orlando, testified before the state Senate Committee on Health Policy. “In the last several years, we have had more parents become irrationally angry about typical healthcare interactions.”

Health care organizations had been lobbying for this law for years before state Rep. Kim Berfield (R-Clearwater) and state Sen. Ana Maria Rodriguez (R-Doral) successfully sponsored legislation this year. Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the bill in May.

In Florida, the crimes of assault and battery are punished more harshly when they’re committed against police officers, firefighters and other first responders. The new law adds hospital workers to that category.

In Florida, an assault is a threat that makes someone fear for their safety, while battery involves physical contact, and aggravated battery involves bodily harm.

The law makes attacks on hospital workers bring heavier fines and more time in jail or prison:

  • Assault rises from a second-degree misdemeanor to a first-degree misdemeanor.
  • Battery rises from a first-degree misdemeanor to a third-degree felony.
  • Aggravated assault rises from a third-degree felony to a second-degree felony.
  • Aggravated battery rises from a second- degree felony to a first-degree felony.

Meanwhile, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio recently introduced legislation to do the same thing at the federal level.

Fuller says she is pleased that attention is being paid to the issue. “We hope that the new law has an impact but also hope to see additional strategies being put in place to protect and support nurses as violence appears to be escalating in health care facilities,” Fuller says. “We will be reactivating our Workplace Violence Taskforce in the coming months so that we are taking a proactive approach to this ongoing dilemma.”

Tags: Healthcare, Feature, Economic Backbone: Nursing

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