Proposed Bipartisan Bill Would Make Violence Against Healthcare Workers a Federal Crime

Published: September 15, 2023

Two lawmakers introduced bipartisan legislation Tuesday that would make assaulting or intimidating hospital workers a federal crime with increased penalties for assaults that cause serious bodily harm.

Senators Joe Manchin (Democrat, W. Va.) and Marco Rubio (Republican, Fla.) rolled out the industry-backed bill Safety from Violence for Healthcare Employees (SAVE), a companion to similar legislation introduced in the House of Representatives last year and reintroduced in April, reports Fierce Healthcare.

“Our nation’s healthcare workers tirelessly care for the health and well-being of communities across the country, even in the face of increased violence, threats and intimidation,” Manchin wrote in a release. “This legislation would create a safer working environment for hospital staff, deter violent behavior and make sure that assailants are appropriately held accountable.”

The bill states that anyone who “knowingly assaults” a person employed by a hospital or by an entity contracting with a hospital or other medical facility and “interferes with the performance of the duties” of the employee would be subject to fines and up to 10 years in prison. If the assailant uses a dangerous or deadly weapon, inflicts serious bodily injury, or carries out their attack during a public emergency declaration, jail time would be increased to a maximum of 20 years. The verbiage “knowingly assaults” is used in order to protect assailants who have a disability or are mentally incapacitated due to illness or substance abuse.

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To track the legislation’s effectiveness, the bill also instructs the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to conduct a study measuring how its increased penalties impact the frequency of hospital workplace violence.

Healthcare industry groups released statements supporting the legislation, including the American Hospital Association (AHA). President and CEO Rick Pollack said while hospitals have been adopting new technologies, training programs, and facility designs to protect healthcare workers, hospitals “can’t do it alone.”

“The sharp rise in violence against caregivers is clearly documented, yet no federal law exists to protect them,” he wrote. “Enactment of this bipartisan legislation would be a significant step forward in protecting our workforce. The AHA commends Senators Manchin and Rubio for their leadership on this issue.”

In a statement, Christopher S. Kang, M.D., president of the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP), said increasing violence against healthcare workers has contributed to significant burnout and will continue to worsen the workforce shortage. A 2023 AMN Healthcare survey, taken by over 18,000 nurses from Jan. 5 to Jan. 18, found 30% of participants are looking to quit nursing altogether — up 7% from 2021 when resignations began to increase during the height of the pandemic. After remaining between 80-85% for over a decade, career satisfaction among nurses also dropped to 71%.

“ACEP deeply appreciates Senator Rubio and Senator Manchin for their bipartisan leadership on the SAVE Act to help ensure that federal law is further equipped to protect healthcare workers from violence, threats and intimidation, while better safeguarding our patients with psychiatric and substance use disorder emergencies,” Kang wrote.

Healthcare Violence Continues to Increase, Previously-Introduced Companion Bill Stalled

Healthcare and social service workers face the highest rates of workplace violence and are five times as likely to get injured at work than workers overall, according to 2018 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Violence only intensified during the pandemic. More than 5,200 nursing personnel were assaulted in the second quarter of 2022, equating to two nurses assaulted every hour, according to an analysis of Press Ganey’s National Database of Nursing Quality Indicators (NDNQI).

Despite a documented increase in violence, previous efforts to introduce similar federal regulations have failed to advance, Healthcare Dive reports. Last year, Senator Tammy Baldwin (Democrat, Wisc.), introduced the Workplace Violence Prevention for Health Care and Social Service Workers Act, which tasked the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) with creating violence prevention measure requirements for healthcare and social service workplaces. When the legislation failed to advance, Baldwin reintroduced it this April where it has since stalled.

In his statement, Manchin said although nearly 40 states have passed laws to increase penalties for violence against healthcare workers, similar federal legislation has faced significant challenges despite support from both healthcare worker unions and national hospital associations.

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