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Lawmakers look to increase penalties for people who attack hospital personnel

a hospital worker ties on a medical mask
SJ Objio

Hospital workers regularly face verbal and physical attacks while on the job. Data shows those attacks are on the rise and nurses are most likely to be the victims. That can lead to a higher rate of turn-over all as the state stares down a nursing shortage. Now, lawmakers are looking for ways to give healthcare workers more power and safety in their jobs.

Elizabeth Gunn is a nurse with Baptist Health in Jacksonville. She’s worked as a nurse for 40 years. Recently, she told a panel of lawmakers about an attack on a young woman at her hospital who was studying to become a nurse.

“She was physically tackled by a patient who was literally throwing a temper tantrum," Gunn said.

The young woman’s neck and shoulders were injured.
She went to Gunn’s office crying—worried the recovery might keep her out of class and then told Gunn, "I'm not even sure I want to be a nurse anymore."

Gunn is in support of a bill that ratchets up the consequences for assault or battery of hospital personnel. She said it would give her more tools to use when dealing with misbehaving patients. She gives the example of a patient who last week was threatening his nurses because he was unhappy with the pain management plan his doctor had ordered. She said having the bill in place would have helped.

“If I can go in and sit down to that individual and say you know there are consequences to this behavior. You have to be in hospital to get your antibiotics. You may not behave that way," Gunn said. That is assault and if you actually put your hands on her it’s battery,"

Rep. Kimberly Berfield (R-Clearwater) is sponsoring the measure. She said it’s not just patients who attack nurses. Recently a hospital CEO told her about another nurse who left her job after 20 years following a conflict with a family member of a patient.

“And individual got upset because he did not like the news that his mother was given. He decided to pull back and slug her," Berfield said.

The nurse ended up with a concussion and resigned at the end of her shift along with another nurse who had been in the room with her.

Berfield hopes her bill can be used as a deterrent for that kind of behavior and will help hospital workers feel safer at their jobs. A similar measure is moving forward in the Senate. Both have one committee stop left before reaching their chamber floors.

Follow @Regan_McCarthy

Regan McCarthy covers healthcare and government in Tallahassee, Florida. She is the Assistant News Director for WFSU Public Media.

Phone: (850) 645-6090 | rmccarthy@fsu.edu

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