Massachusetts House of Representatives voted 155-0 on March 31 to approve a bill that sets specific punishments for those convicted of assaulting healthcare workers.
The bill adds RNs, nurse psychologists, physicians, physical and occupational therapists and other healthcare workers to an existing law for protecting emergency medical technicians, ambulance operators and attendants assaulted in the line of duty.
Under the bill, people who are convicted of assaulting nurses or other healthcare workers would be punished by 90 days to 2.5 years in jail or by a fine ranging from $500 to $5,000 or both jail time and a fine.
The legislation now moves to the state senate.
"Patients, family members and others must get the message that violence against healthcare workers will be treated seriously," said Donna Kelly-Williams, RN, president of the Massachusetts Nurses Association and staff nurse at Cambridge Health Alliance. "Several years ago, the legislature increased the penalties for assaulting an emergency medical technician while providing treatment. SB 1753, sponsored by Sen. Michael Moore (D-Millbury), and HB 1696, sponsored by Rep. Michael Rodrigues (D-Westport), provides the same increased penalties for those who assault a nurse or healthcare professional providing treatment."
The vote came after about 200 nurses converged at the state house and lobbied legislators to pass the bill.
They also asked legislators to support two other measures; SB988, which will require healthcare employers to develop and implement programs to prevent workplace violence; and HB1931, which will create a special "difficult to manage" unit in the Department of Mental Health to treat repeat perpetrators of violence. Those are still are making their way through the legislative process.
"We are thrilled with today's vote and the message it sends, that being assaulted is not acceptable, and healthcare workers need to be protected as they do their jobs," Kelly-Williams said. "This is an important first step in our effort to make healthcare settings safer for nurses and for patients."