Tougher Penalties for Harming Nurses


Posted to Nurse Safety, Nursing, Nursing News

Image courtesy of KOMUnews via Flickr

Dealing with violent patients is a fact of most nurses’ lives.

New legislation in Nebraska would stiffen the penalties for harming a nurse, bringing it more in line with existing laws about harming police officers, for example.

The Omaha World-Herald has an article explaining that about 1,300 assaults of nurses and other health professionals occur every day nationally, according to the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health.

In an example of such an assault, one ER nurse reached out to a large man who seemed extremely nervous as he entered the emergency room. She was just doing what she was trained to do but the man turned on her and beat her horribly, which left her out of work for six months and permanently traumatized.

That and similar stories helped push passage in the Nebraska Legislature on Thursday of a bill to toughen penalties on those who assault nurses and others who work in hospitals and health clinics.

Under Legislative Bill 677, sponsored by State Sen. Steve Lathrop of Omaha, assaulting a health professional would bring the same potential penalty as assaulting a police officer: It would be a Class 3A felony, punishable by up to five years in prison or up to a $10,000 fine, or both.

Each emergency room and clinic would also be required to post a sign at the entrance warning that assaulting workers is a felony.

Currently, a typical assault would result in a misdemeanor charge, which carries less serious penalties.

Lathrop said health professionals deserve special treatment because they are particularly vulnerable and because of the work they do. Nurses, he said, must work in close proximity to patients and assume a level of trust with them.

“Nurses open themselves up to provide care to someone and, unexpectedly, they’re assaulted. They’re not expecting to be hit,” he said. “It’s becoming more and more of a problem.”

Lathrop, an attorney, represented a registered nurse at Papillion’s Midlands Hospital who was assaulted by a mentally disturbed patient in 2007. The nurse now has permanent eye injuries.

Several other stories of violence in emergency and hospital rooms in Nebraska were aired at a public hearing on the bill last year. Health professionals say they can be in harm’s way when gang members or upset family members go to an emergency room seeking retaliation after a shooting or an assault.

Officials from Omaha-based Alegent Health testified that 65 assaults occurred in a year’s time at their five hospitals in the Omaha-Council Bluffs area.

“Violence is part of our society, and it’s brought in from the streets to the emergency ward,” said Karen Wiley, an Omaha nurse. “People who are intoxicated will act out and hit someone. Because it’s a misdemeanor, arrests are not always made.”