April 15, 2010, BOSTON, MA - The Massachusetts Senate cast a unanimous vote today to pass legislation which will stiffen the penalties of those who assault nurses and other health care workers, one of a series of measures the state's nurses are proposing to address the growing problem of workplace violence in health care settings. The House of Representatives had passed the bill in March.
"Violence against nurses is occurring at an alarming rate. This is an important first step in our effort to make health care settings safer for nurses and for patients and we thank the Senate for their support today." said Donna Kelly-Williams, President of the MNA.
The vote follows years of advocacy by nurses from across the Commonwealth who have been pushing for passage of a package of bills filed by the Massachusetts Nurses Association that are designed to address what has become a growing crisis in the health care sector.
Massachusetts law already treats any assault on an emergency medical technician while the technician is providing care as a separate crime with its own set of penalties. SB 1753, sponsored by Senator Michael Moore (D- Millbury), and HB 1696, sponsored by Rep. Michael Rodrigues (D-Westport), extends those same protections to nurses.
MNA Vice President Karen Coughlin, RN, said she has been a victim of a number of assaults during her years working at one of the state's mental health facilities. "Patients, family members and others must get the message that violence against health care workers will be treated seriously," Coughlin said.
A June 2008 study showed that workers in the healthcare sector are 16 times more likely to be confronted with violence on the job than any other service profession. A study by the Emergency Nurses Association in the spring of 2007 found that more than half of emergency nurses reported experiencing physical violence on the job. In a 2004 survey of Massachusetts nurses, 50 percent indicated they had been punched at least once in the last two years, and 25-30 percent were regularly pinched, scratched or spit on or had their hand twisted. In fact, nurses are assaulted at work on a par with police officers and prison guards. Yet most hospitals and health care employers in the state fail to adequately address the issue of workplace violence and very often provide little or no support to employees who are attacked on the job.
In addition to the Assault Bill the MNA is also promoting two other measures; SB988 which will require health care employers to develop and implement programs to prevent workplace violence; and HB1931 which will create a special difficult to manage unit in the Department of Mental Health to treat repeat perpetrators of violence.