CAMDEN - A proposed state law would stiffen penalties for threats and assaults against health care workers, elected officials said here Thursday.
The announcement came on the same day that the Burlington County Prosecutor’s Office reported the indictment of a woman accused of punching a doctor during an emergency room visit.
In each instance, officials cited an increase in attacks against healthcare workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The proposed law “will send a clear message that our health care workers must be treated with the respect, decency and civility they deserve,” state Senator Troy Singleton, D-Burlington, said at a gathering of elected officials and health system executives.
Threats against a health care worker or any employee at a health care facility would be treated as a disorderly persons offense under the Health Care Heroes Violence Prevention Act.
Convicted offenders could face imprisonment for up to six months and/or a fine of up to $1,000.
“The bill also calls for additional penalties for assault against these employees by allowing courts to mandate an anger management course or 30 days of community service for defendants,” according to a statement released by the legislators.
Separately, Burlington County Prosecutor Scott Coffina noted "a dramatic rise" in violent incidents against health care workers in announcing the indictment of Shelly Webb, a 48-year-old Browns Mills woman.
"We will continue to take a zero-tolerance approach toward assaults on employees of health care facilities," Coffina said.
Webb is accused of aggravated assault in connection with a March 2020 incident at an emergency room in Pemberton Township.
The charge is only an allegation. Webb has not been convicted in the case.
The prosecutor's office contends Webb struck a doctor during a visit to Capital Health at Deborah - Emergency Services on the 200 block of Trenton Road.
"The investigation revealed that Webb came in to the facility complaining of a migraine headache, and believed she may have been struck by lightning," it said.
"She became belligerent upon being questioned and, when the doctor attempted to examine Webb’s head, she lunged forward and punched her in the abdomen," the prosecutor's office alleged.