AHA requesting protection for health care workers from assault and intimidation

Physical attacks on health care workers is on the rise and the AHA wants Congress to help

Since the pandemic, the attacks on health care workers has increased dramatically. Studies show that 44% of nurses have experienced physical violence and 68% report verbal abuse.

As a result, the American Hospital Association has written a letter to the U.S. Department of Justice asking for legislation that would protect health care workers from assault and intimidation.

The AHA cites examples of assaults to support its case. In Georgia, a patient grabbed a nurse by the wrist and kicked her in the ribs. A nurse in South Dakota was thrown against a wall and bitten by a patient. A medical student from Thailand was called “China virus” and kicked and dragged to the ground. A hospital president in Michigan reported that being yelled at, punched and scratched happens on a daily basis for health care workers.

The AHA states that workplace violence has severe consequences for the entire health care system. Not only does it cause physical and psychological injury for health care workers, but workplace violence and intimidation make it more difficult for nurses, doctors and other clinical staff to provide quality patient care. Nurses and doctors cannot provide attentive care when they are afraid for their personal safety, distracted by disruptive patients and family members, or traumatized from prior violent interactions. In addition, violent interactions at health care facilities tie up valuable resources and can delay urgently needed care for other patients. Studies show that workplace violence reduces patient satisfaction and employee productivity, and increases the potential for adverse medical events.

The letter reads in part: “Last year, you took decisive action to address the rise in violent behavior on commercial aircraft by directing United States Attorneys to prioritize prosecutions when airline employees were harmed by passengers. You wrote: ‘The Department of Justice is committed to using its resources to do its part to prevent violence, intimidation, threats of violence, and other criminal behavior that endangers the safety of passengers, flight crews, and flight attendants on commercial aircraft.’ As you recognized, vigorous enforcement creates a safe traveling environment, deters violent behavior, and ensures that offenders are appropriately punished.”

The AHA wants the nation’s health care workers to have the same level of protection and commitment from the Department of Justice.

Currently, there is no existing federal statute that protects health care workers from the even greater incidence of violence that they experience. “We therefore urge you to support legislation, modeled after 18 U.S.C. § 46504, that would provide similar protections as those that currently exist for flight crews and airport workers,” the letter states.