Congress Bill Works to Protect Health Care Workers from Violence

Violence in the workplace is an unfortunately common experience for many health care workers, and until now, there was no law protecting their safety. Now, a passed House bill might change that.

Health care workers are often attacked—verbally and physically—by their own patients, and until recently, not much has been said or done about it. A newly passed bill by Congress is proposing mandatory violence reporting to better protect workers.

Data has shown that workplace violence is not only a common occurrence for health care workers, but it’s been on the rise lately. New data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows there has been a 70 percent increase in intentional injuries to registered nurses by patients around the country between 2012 to 2018.

A 2016 GAO study even reported that rats of violence against health care workers are up to 12 times higher than rates for the overall workforce.

“It’s time to speak out,” said Connecticut Congressman Joe Courtney, who introduced the legislation in February. “It’s been way overlooked for far too long, and it’s time for Congress and the country to act. We want to stop it from happening to begin with.”

And Congress has acted. The House passed H.R. 1309, or the “Workplace Violence Prevention for Health Care and Social Service Workers Act,” in a 251-158 vote. It would make reporting violence mandatory and would also require employers and facilities have plans to prevent violence.

The proposed bill defines workplace violence as any act or threat of force against an employee that could result in a physical injury, psychological trauma, or stress. It would also include any act where a firearm or an improved weapon was used, according to a CT Mirror article.

Even with the passing of the bill by Congress, the bill is not yet law. Currently, there are no federal rules requiring employers to have violence prevention programs to protect them. Many states have passed their own laws, but not all.

Still, about one in four nursing professionals are the victims of an assault in the workplace during their careers.

“They have been slapped, they have been kicked, they have been hit,” said Stephanie Paulmeno, president of the Connecticut Nurses Association. “People in health care are more likely to be assaulted than police officers or prison guards.”

While there are still steps to be made on the bill and addressing workplace violence against health care professionals in general, advocates say this passing is an important step that’s long overdue.

However, not everyone is behind it. Many hospitals and nursing homes do not think this bill would be helpful, mainly because hospitals have already implemented specific programs to their sites.

“Because hospitals have already implemented specifically tailored policies and programs to address workplace violence, we do not believe that the OSHA standards required by H.R. 1309 are warranted…,” said Thomas Nickels, executive vice president of the American Hospital Association, to members of the House Education and Labor who considered the bill earlier this year.

Plus, it would cost hospitals money. If the bill becomes law, the Congressional Budget Office first estimated the cost of operating private health care facilities to increase by at least $2.7 billion in the first two years and at least $1.3 billion annually thereafter. The CBO then revised and lowered its estimates, saying the cost to private entities would be at least $1.8 billion in the first two years and at least $750 million annually thereafter.

Costs would come from activities like annual training of personnel, development and implementation of plans to prevent violence in the workplace, and development and maintenance of certain changes to infrastructure, said the CBO.

Courtney says the legislation’s future in the U.S. Senate is less clear despite its recent passing in the House.

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