October 19, 2011 - Lansing, Michigan - Two bills which will raise the act of assaulting a health care professional to a felony charge punishable by higher fines and longer jail sentences have passed the Michigan Senate today. When passed, SB 642 and SB 643 will amend the Michigan Penal Code so anyone who assaults, batters or assaults and batters a health care professional while performing his or her duties could spend time in prison or pay a fine, or both. SB 642 is sponsored by Senator Rick Jones (R-24) and SB 643 is sponsored by Senator Roger Kahn (R-32).

"It's high time for this legislation," said Jeff Breslin, RN, MNA President. "During my career, I've known nurses that have had to be on disability for weeks or even retire because of being injured by a patient or family member. People experience many different kinds of emotion during a stressful situation caused by an accident or illness of a family member, but none of those emotions should come at the cost of the health care professional being physically assaulted."

The Emergency Nurses Association found in a study conducted between May 2009 and February 2010, that 97.1 percent of physical violence in emergency rooms was perpetrated by patients and their relatives. One in four (nurses) experienced physical violence such as being spit on, hit, pushed, shoved, scratched or kicked while working more than 20 times in the past three years. One in five nurses experienced verbal abuse more than 200 times during the same period.

Terri Thuss, RN, an emergency room nurse at Alpena Regional Medical Center, and several other staff members were assaulted while trying to care for a 23-year-old former cage fighter who was out of control physically. "At this point, I am unable to work due to the pain. I have seen too many specialists and they can't fix the damage to my shoulder. The other nurse that was injured tore all the ligaments and tendons in her right elbow. She required surgery and is currently going through (physical) therapy to rehab her arm."

In the case of this patient, he received one week in jail with one day served and then deferred one year, a suspended driver's license, one weekend in rehab and paid a fine for his acts of violence.

"If the guidelines had been in place," says Thuss, "perhaps he would have gotten stiffer penalties. The penalty he received was nothing more than a slap on the wrist. This patient is free to live life to the fullest and I am left to live with pain and uncertainty of my future."

The bills now move to the House for consideration.