Bill to protect health care workers against violent workplace attacks passes the House

ATLANTA — A bill aimed at workplace violence protections for health care workers has passed the House, as President Joe Biden’s administration urges lawmakers to advance legislation.

The Workplace Violence Prevention for Healthcare and Social Service Workers Act passed the House on Friday. The bipartisan measure aims to require reporting and prevention policy mandates for health care facilities, where workers have been the target of increased physical violence in recent years.

The controversy surrounding the problems was the subject of a 2019 Channel 2 investigation, as studies showed the magnitude of violent health care worker attacks. In all, 1 in 4 nurses have been assaulted at work, according to a study by the American Nurses Association, and 70% of workplace assaults were tied to the health care and social services industries. Federal reports showed at least 58 hospital workers died from workplace violence between 2011 and 2016, but the reporting mandates from facilities are not a federal requirement.

At the time, the opioid epidemic and a decrease in mental health services were cited as contributing to “patient on health care worker” attacks.

Georgia nurses shared their own workplace assaults with Channel 2 investigative reporter Nicole Carr.

“The pandemic of workplace violence has actually been going on for decades, and the COVID-19 pandemic has exasperated it,” said Bonnie Castillo, a registered nurse and executive director of National Nurses United.

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Castillo and supporters joined Rep. Joe Courtney this week in a celebratory virtual discussion on the bill’s passage as they urge Senate leaders to pass the measure. Courtney, a Connecticut Democrat who crafted the legislation, outlined how the measure picks up where Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulations fall off. OSHA does not currently require health care facilities to report workplace violence against its workers.

The legislation gives OSHA a year to come up with an interim, short-term standard — and 3 1/2 years for a final plan — that requires facilities to identify violent risks to their workers, come up with security plans to address it and ensure the data is reported to the agency.

Right now, the process of enacting a rule to create a federal reporting and mitigation mandate could take the agency decades to enact on its own, Courtney said Monday.

“It basically says we are not going to let the normal delays that have normally been a trademark of OSHA slow this thing down,” Courtney said.

Randi Weingarten is the president of the American Federation of Teachers, which also serves as the second-largest nurses’ union. She sees clear protective measures that can come from the proposed legislation.

“It’s time to stop begging them (health care facilities) to do what they should do, " Weingarten said Monday. “It’s time to make sure that they have to put this into all of their protocols. Which means, they’ve gotta hire people to do safety. Which means they have to have the protective doors that don’t just open. Which means they have stop the guns and knives from coming into the hospital.”

“If we can actually say to people that you’ve gotta wear a mask when you walk into hospitals, that you’ve actually got to be protected from infectious diseases when you walk into a hospital, we can actually do this in terms of safety,” Weingarten continued.

Last week, the White House expressed its support for the legislation, highlighting the additional mandate to prevent health care workers from facing retaliation when they report violent attacks.