Bruises (and more) in the Line of Duty

I am delighted to report today that SB 642 and SB 643 have passed out of the Michigan Senate and are on their way to the House, where I hope they will get a quick review and be on to the Governor for a pen scrawl into law. If you haven’t been following these bills, here’s a quick recap. SB 642 is a bill to amend the Michigan Penal Code so that anyone who assaults or batters, or assaults and batters a health care professional while performing his or her professional duties is guilty of a felony punishable by imprisonment or a fine or both. This bill, and SB 643, make smacking a health care professional a felony punishable by higher fines and longer jail sentences. You get mad at the EMT rescuing your mother, take a swing and connect, and you could be looking at up to two years in jail and a possible $5,000 fine.

This bill covers EMTs, ambulance operators and attendants, nurses, physical therapists, occupational therapists, physicians and physician’s assistants. It’s long overdue. The amount of physical and verbal abuse these people have to take in the performance of their job is ridiculous!

Understand that we’re not talking a pyschiatric situation where a person isn’t in control of his actions and lashes out. We’re talking about people who are sad or angry or grieving or mad and choose to take out that emotion on the physical body of the person providing the health care. We’re talking about people who chose to get drunk or high and then ended up in the ER, fighting mad and out of control. And while you might give a patient the benefit of the doubt, there’s no excuse for family members. None at all.

Back in May 2009, the Emergency Nurses Association started a national survey that wrapped up in February 2010. According to their results, they discovered that “more than half of emergency department nurses have been physically assaulted at work.” These episodes of being physically assaulted included being spit on, hit, pushed or shoved, and scratched or kicked. “One in four (nurses) have experienced such violence more than 20 times in the past three years,” the report found. “Just as alarming, one in five nurses have experienced verbal abuse more than 200 times during the same period.”

The most telling statistic – 97.1 percent of the physical violence was perpetrated by patients and their relatives.

I’ve heard nurses shrug off injuries as part of the job and I’ve seen nurses who are now retired because they were so damaged by a patient that they can no longer work. Either way, it’s not right. It’s never been right that misplaced anger is leaving bruises on nurses.

Will SB 642 and SB 643 solve everything? No. People will still get crazy out of control, hurt themselves, get hauled into an ED and be a major problem to deal with. But if SB 642 and SB 643 are put into law – and if they’re posted on the walls in the rooms and health care professionals can refer to them – it might stop an outraged family member or patient. Because even an outraged patient or family member will take a second breath if they’re looking at significant jail time.

The key will be communication. When these bills turn into law, nurses and other health care professionals MUST impress on their workplaces that this information needs to be passed out when patients come into the hospital, posted on the walls in treatment rooms, placed by hospital beds, put in elevators, stuck on the cafeteria doors, and if needed, handstitched on pillows in the hospital gift shop. There is no shortage of places where this information should be placed so that everyone entering the hospital knows the rules – you hit a health care professional in this institution and the law is not going to be on your side. It’s going to be on the side of the bleeding and the bruised.

Stay tuned –  SB 642 and SB 643 are well on their way to becoming reality!

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