Hospitals are supposed to be scenes of healing and recovery, but all too often they are the scene of violence against healthcare professionals. By law, nurses and healthcare professionals are required to treat patients who are drunk, on drugs, or violent offenders receiving medical care after being taken into custody by law enforcement.
Treating these patients puts nurses at risk of violent assault and legislators in Illinois passed legislation in 2013 that made assaulting an LPN or RN a felony offense. The law allows the courts to sentence offenders to up to five years in prison. The law has been praised by the Illinois Nurses Association and Chicago workers’ compensation attorneys.
Nurses have a difficult job, and the last thing they should be worried about is whether a patient is going to assault them. The threat of assault is a distraction that can cause diagnostic errors and impact a nurse’s ability to provide the care their patient requires.
A survey published by the Journal of Emergency Nursing in 2013 reported that up to 80% of nurses are victims of workplace violence. These acts were committed primarily by patients and visitors to the hospital. Nationwide, assaults on healthcare professionals account for 70% of all nonfatal workplace assaults. This statistic is in line with cases handled by Chicago workers’ compensation attorneys.
According to the Department of Justice, up to 500,000 nurses are the victims of violent assaults in the workplace every year. These acts of violence include hitting, shoving, biting, and even spitting. Even with strict adherence to universal safety precautions, violent assaults have the potential to spread deadly pathogens to nurses via bodily fluids.
Violence against nurses is growing to epidemic proportions. Whether fueled by drugs, alcohol, or frustration, these assaults are making providing healthcare a very dangerous career choice. Most recently, New York, passed the Violence Against Nurses Act that gives the courts the power to prescribe and administer justice; up to seven years in prison.
New York’s law provides protections for nurses that are similar to those granted to firefighters, police officers, and other emergency responders. With its passage, it means that there are now 32 states where assaulting a nurse can land an offender in prison. This is a step in the right direction, and while it will make it possible to punish offenders, it won’t stop the assaults. Equally important is the need for healthcare facilities to improve security protocols that can help prevent assaults from occurring.