TRENTON, NJ – As violence against health care professionals continues to grow, Assembly Majority Leader Louis Greenwald and Senator Troy Singleton announced on Thursday their plan to introduce legislation to protect healthcare workers.
The "Health Care Heroes Violence Prevention Act" will help protect these employees by increasing penalties for those convicted of threats or violence against health care workers.
Health care workers were already 5 times more likely to suffer a workplace violence injury than other professions before the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated attacks against these professionals. A survey of more than 5,000 registered nurses in September 2021 found that 31 percent of those working in hospitals faced an increase in workplace violence – up from 22 percent earlier in the year.
"For two years, our nurses, doctors and health care professionals have been on the frontline of the COVID pandemic – often putting their own health at risk," said Senator Singleton (D-Burlington), who represents Mount Laurel in the Legislature. "Sadly, this figurative battlefield has turned literal, with people physically assaulting these essential workers. This is simply unacceptable. This proposal will send a clear message that our health care workers must be treated with the respect, decency and civility they deserve."
The measure establishes threats against a health care professional or any worker at a health care facility as a disorderly persons offense, which would be punishable by imprisonment of 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. The proposed legislation is already supported by numerous legislators and health care system leaders throughout New Jersey.
"Many of my emergency medicine physician and nursing colleagues across the country have seen too many unfortunate violent incidents against our co-workers," said Dr. Anthony Mazzarelli, Co-CEO of Cooper University Health Care. "We hope this legislation will work to deter violent behavior in settings dedicated to care and healing."
"Our hospital employees truly are health care heroes, who every day save lives, bring comfort, and offer hope," said Joseph Chirichella, President and CEO of Deborah Heart and Lung Center. "They should never have to worry about aggressive behavior from anyone at work, and protecting them is of utmost importance. It has become especially difficult for our caregivers in the past two years, because in addition to the arduous task of caring for patients during the pandemic, they have also had to serve as 'de facto' enforcers of CDC guidelines and NJDOH directives ensuring everyone's safety and compliance with a myriad of infection control regulations that often changed quickly. We have asked so much of our health care workers; it is essential that we guarantee them a safe place to work."
"Rising violence against health care workers is one of the underreported consequences of the pandemic. In fact, we've reached a point in which many workers view threats and acts of aggression as 'just part of the job.' This is unacceptable and we, as a community, must take a stand to protect all people who dedicate themselves to careers in health care," said Dennis W. Pullin, FACHE, President and CEO of Virtua Health. "Legislation to provide health care workers with extra protection is the least we can do in exchange for their service and sacrifices over the past two years, and long before."