AHA-Backed Bipartisan Bill To Safeguard Healthcare Employees

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The Safety from Violence for Healthcare Employees Act, which has been introduced by Reps. Madeleine Dean, D-Pa., and Larry Bucshon, R-Ind., is an AHA-supported regulation which would give healthcare employees the very same safeguards against attacks and harassment as flight crews and airport workers under federal law. The current wave of attacks on healthcare workers must stop, and everyone must do everything they can to safeguard them. Throughout the pandemic, the workforce has been dealing with unprecedented amounts of anxiety and violence while continuing to offer compassionate, high-quality care. Hospitals and health organisations are dedicated to providing a safe workplace for their employees.

It was earlier this year that AHA brought the issue of workplace violence against healthcare employees to Attorney General Merrick Garland’s attention, urging the Department of Justice to enact laws that would provide federal protections for the healthcare workforce.

The healthcare industry has seen an upsurge in workplace violence since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The outbreak has put a strain on the overall healthcare system, and in some cases, patients, visitors, and relatives have attacked healthcare workers, jeopardising their capacity to give care. Hospitals, health systems, and their staff have indicated a strong desire for a federal law that protects health care workers against violence and intimidation, similar to how airline and airport workers are protected under present federal law.

For a long time, hospitals and health systems have had robust policies in place for detecting and deterring violence against their employees. However, since the outbreak of the pandemic, violence against hospital personnel has skyrocketed and shows no signs of abating.

The press reports on patients or family members attacking hospital employees physically or verbally on a daily basis. A patient, for example, recently seized a nurse’s wrist and kicked her in the ribs in Georgia. A nurse was slammed against a wall and bit by a patient in South Dakota. In New York, a Thai medical student was dubbed “China Virus,” kicked and dragged on the ground, leaving her hands bloodied and her legs bruised. 

These news pieces are backed up by data. During the COVID-19 epidemic, for example, 44% of nurses reported encountering physical aggression and 68% reported verbal abuse, according to recent studies. Workplace violence has far-reaching implications for the healthcare system as a whole. Not only can workplace violence and intimidation harm healthcare employees physically and mentally, but it also makes it difficult for nurses, doctors, and other clinical staff to provide high-quality patient care. Nurses and doctors can’t give attentive care if they’re worried about their safety, distracted by obnoxious patients and families, or traumatised by previous violent encounters. Furthermore, violent encounters in healthcare facilities eat up important resources and can cause other patients to wait longer for attention. Workplace violence has been shown in studies to lower patient experience and employee productivity, as well as increase the risk of unfavourable medical outcomes.

Despite the prevalence of violence in the workplace and its negative consequences for the healthcare system, no federal statute protects healthcare workers from attack or intimidation on the job. In contrast, there are federal laws prohibiting assault and intimidation of airline staff. Enforcing these federal regulations effectively provides a safe travelling environment, deters aggressive behaviour, and guarantees that violators are properly punished. Healthcare employees in the country, who have worked diligently to care for and treat the sick and dying despite heightened violence, particularly through the latter two years of the pandemic, deserve the same legal rights as airline workers.