At first, I read this article eagerly. I thought, “Great, finally we get protection under the law!” Then upon further reading, you can imagine my dismay to see that this has been before the Senate numerous times in the past and was killed in committee. The reason is to deliberate more on who this law is for and what should be covered.
Okay, I’m all for being sure about any new law, however, where do these people live? Do they not read the papers or listen to news? At a time when the nursing shortage is fast approaching critical mass with no solution in sight, do we really want to say, “ummm, do nurses really need protection under the law?” If someone hits me when I am off work, I can file charges and be taken seriously. If someone hits me while I am working, I don’t have that same privilege. Yes, I can file but the police will not pursue, nor will my hospital. Things like this really make me wonder who will want to become a nurse or who will want to remain a nurse–exactly what is fueling the current shortage.
February 08, 2010
A bill that would require harsher penalties for individuals who injure or attempt to injure nurses was passed in the Senate Jan. 25.
Current penal law calls for harsher penalties for those who assault emergency medical professionals, firemen, and police officers. The bill (S.4018/A.3103) would amend the law by expanding the definition of assault on emergency medical professionals to include registered nurses and licensed practical nurses, while also changing the term “fireman” to “firefighter” and including “she” in the definition of those who may cause injury to another person.
Punishment for assault on registered nurses and licensed practical nurses would, under the legislation, be strengthened to a Class C or D felony depending on the offense. According to the bill’s justification, nurses suffer the highest proportions of injuries among health care workers.
“Nurses and other emergency medical professionals are often among the first to treat persons in need of medical assistance,” said Sen. Ruth Hassell-Thompson, D-Mount Vernon, who, along with Assemblyman David Koon, D-Perinton, is sponsoring the legislation. “Unfortunately, countless acts of violence are inflicted upon nurses while in the line of duty, and currently, the law does not offer them the same protections as it offers other emergency medical professionals.”
According to the bill’s justification, nurses are often subject to numerous forms of emotional, verbal and physical abuse by patients, including choking, stabbing and threatening. A large percentage of the violence goes unreported, thus leading to unpunished behavior, lower job satisfaction and staff shortages, according to the justification.
“Nurses do not discriminate to whom they give medical treatment, often placing themselves in harm’s way,” said Sen. Antoine Thomson, D-Buffalo. “It is our duty to protect them so they can perform their professional duties without fear of injury.”
The bill has passed in the Senate for the past three years but has died in the Assembly Codes Committee every time, according to Shaun Flynn, executive director of governmental affairs for New York State Nurses Association.
Flynn said there has been a historic hesitancy in the Assembly to pass the bill because of concerns about creating a separate category for nurses under penal law. Flynn said that although the bill hasn’t been passed, there is no organized opposition to its contents.
“The Assembly takes more time to take a look at bills like this because of historic concerns about creating separate categories,” said Flynn. “They’re taking their time with it.”
According to Cathy Peake, chief of staff for Assembly Codes Committee Chairman Joseph Lentol, D-Brooklyn, the committee has not passed the legislation because the members want more information about the causes of the violent incidents.
“What nurses are being assaulted?” asked Peake. “Are they emergency room nurses? What are the details of the problem?”
Peake said that opposition was not to the bill itself, but to the prospect of amending a law before knowing the full extent of the problem. She said the committee would pass the bill if it received New York-specific information about the incidents.
“Maybe it would be possible to improve hospital procedure and security before bumping up the penalties,” said Peake.
Flynn said that because the bill has now been around for several years, he thinks that there is a much better chance of it passing in 2010.
Senators in support of the bill said the legislation is necessary especially because of the fact that many hospitals across New York are understaffed, leading many nurses isolated while working with patients who are mentally ill or under the influence of alcohol or drugs — making violent activity more likely.
“By making these acts of violence against nurses a felony,” Hassell-Thompson said, “an important standard will be set that violence against these medical professionals is not accepted and will not be tolerated.”
The bill was referred to the Codes Committee Jan. 25.