A bill that aims to protect Florida hospital employees from workplace violence is gaining support in the legislature.
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Members of the Senate Committee on Health Policy unanimously passed Senate Bill 568 on Monday. It was the second Senate committee to approve the bill, which now goes to the Senate Rules Committee.
SB 568 would provide enhanced criminal penalties for people who knowingly commit assault or battery on hospital personnel. Bill sponsor Sen. Ana Maria Rodriguez (R-Doral) said it aims to strengthen workplace violence protections for hospital employees, including nurses, physicians, and other clinical and nonclinical personnel.
“The current law penalizes assault and battery only against hospital personnel in hospital emergency departments,” Rodriguez said. “And this bill would make assault or battery against any hospital personnel, anywhere in the hospital, a misdemeanor or felony.”
Dr. Dan Podberesky, chief medical officer at Nemours Children’s Hospital, Florida in Orlando, testified in support of SB 568.
“Unfortunately, part of the job of a pediatric healthcare professional is dealing with very difficult issues, such as talking with patients and parents about devastating diagnoses,” Podberesky said. “We often see children who have suffered from physical or emotional abuse requiring intervention from state agencies.”
Healthcare professionals are dealing with record numbers of sick children in emergency rooms, intensive care units, and other areas of the hospital, Podberesky said. These circumstances can provoke emotional outbursts from parents.
“Unfortunately, we are seeing increasing levels of violence, anger, and intimidation directed towards our physicians and nurses, to the point where it has become intolerable for some,” Podberesky said. “In the last several years, we have had more parents become irrationally angry about typical healthcare interactions. They threaten to harm physicians physically, and to prevent them from practicing medicine in the future over seemingly minor perceived issues.”
Instances of families threatening the lives of Nemours physicians are so significant that the hospital has hired around-the-clock, armed personal bodyguards to ensure their safety, Podberesky said.
“Recently, we had a parent threaten to use the gun that she was visibly pointing to in her holster because she believed her child’s needs weren’t being attended to quickly enough in a busy urgent care center,” he said. “Associates have been spat on, threatened, barricaded; we’ve had team members suffer unimaginable racist and sexist verbal abuse from angry parents.”
Healthcare workers are five times more likely to experience workplace violence than in any other industry, Podberesky said. The issue is also affecting the workforce at Nemours.
“We’ve had a number of Nemours workers quit their jobs recently because of the abuse they had suffered from patient families,” he said.