Bill Would Increase Penalties for Violence Against Physicians and Other Health Care Workers

A bill that would increase the penalty for assaulting a health worker in Pennsylvania passed the House on Feb. 10, 2016, and now goes to the Senate for its consideration. The Pennsylvania Medical Society (PAMED) supports this bill.

“By increasing the penalty for assaulting health care workers from a misdemeanor of the second degree to a felony, HB 1219 raises awareness about the threats these individuals face on a daily basis and stresses a zero-tolerance policy,” said PAMED President Scott Shapiro, MD, FACC, FCPP, in a letter PAMED sent to the House Judiciary Committee. “Harsher penalties will serve as a deterrent to those who seek to harm individuals who have made it their life’s work to protect and care for others. While holding violent individuals more accountable for their behavior, HB 1219 acknowledges the impact of this behavior to victims.”

Physicians and other health care workers face a significant risk of job-related violence. A 2011 report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics found that workplace violence in medical occupations represented more than 10 percent of all workplace violence incidents. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has also reported that workers in health care and social assistance settings are five times more likely to be victims of a non-fatal assault or violent act than the average worker in all other occupations combined.

Currently, assault against individuals in certain high risk occupations such as law enforcement and teaching constitutes aggravated assault. However, while emergency services personnel and psychiatric aides are listed among the 38 enumerated classes of individuals with this additional protection, the additional legal protection is not clearly provided to all health care workers.

“I believe it is important to protect those who are trying to care for patients,” said Rep. Judy Ward, the bill’s sponsor, in her co-sponsorship memo.

Recognizing this as a serious problem, at least 32 states have now made it a felony to assault health care workers.

“The Pennsylvania Medical Society applauds Rep. Ward for her initiative. With the bill now moving to the state Senate, on behalf of all Pennsylvania physicians, we encourage our state senators to pass this necessary piece of legislation,” said Dr. Shapiro in a Feb. 12, 2016 news release.