ANNAPOLIS — A Frederick County delegate is asking colleagues to form a work group that would look at enhancing penalties against those who assault doctors, nurses and other employees at hospitals and similar facilities.
Del. Barrie Ciliberti (R-Frederick and Carroll) originally introduced — along with several other delegates — the bill as House Bill 1302. If a person were to attack a doctor or nurse, they could be charged with felony second-degree assault, which calls for up to 10 years in prison, a $5,000 fine or both. Currently, it is treated as a misdemeanor.
The bill would add hospital workers to a list of protected employees that includes police officers and firefighters.
In a hearing on the bill, however, Ciliberti asked the House Judiciary Committee to help create a work group that would examine his legislation in the interim, and hopefully help draft a bill for consideration next session.
Ciliberti said earlier this week he asked for the group both because there are some “legal” issues that need to be discussed regarding language, and Del. Luke Clippinger (D-Baltimore city), chair of the Judiciary Committee, told him that might be the best path forward.
Trying to protect emergency workers and nurses in hospitals by implementing enhanced penalties for offenders “just made a heck of a lot of sense,” Ciliberti said. He added that Clippinger has been open to his proposal.
“If you’re going into a hospital, you want care. … Who’s going to give you the care but the nurses or doctors on duty?” Ciliberti said. “The first priority is to make sure these people who are trying to save a leg or save a life are protected.”
On Friday, Ciliberti was accompanied by Margo Mancl, nurse manager of the Blaustein Pain Treatment Center at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore.
Mancl, who also serves in government affairs for the Maryland State Council’s Emergency Nurses Association, said after the hearing one of the challenges is that workplace violence in hospitals and other health care centers is underreported.
A study from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) from 2015 and Mancl both indicated one reason this violence is underreported is that employees believe it is part of the workplace environment.
“There’s a lot of this cultural belief, that it’s just part of the job,” Mancl said. “Nurses go to work, and doctors go to work, and they get hurt. And so they don’t necessarily report it.”
She said that nurses and emergency care workers often have to deal with people who have just been apprehended by law enforcement, and were injured in the process — another reason for the enhanced penalties.
“So that person is now coming into my emergency department, and I have to take care of them, but if I get hurt, I’m not on the same playing field as law enforcement,” Mancl said. “And rightfully so, they should be having these higher, enhanced penalties, saying, we’re on the same team. ... We’re trying to do our jobs, taking care of the same people and we just don’t have the same protection on the health care side.”
According to the OSHA study, “incidents of serious workplace violence ... were four times more common in healthcare than in private industry on average.”
In 2013, data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics showed the “healthcare and social service sector” had about 7.8 cases of serious workplace violence per 10,000 full-time employees.
Novant Health, a regional group of hospitals, clinicians and other providers, reported in 2015 that North Carolina’s Legislature passed a law similar to Ciliberti’s proposal that year.
MassLive reported last year that Massachusetts lawmakers were also looking at a similar proposal. Earlier this month, that state’s Senate Judiciary Committee asked for lawmakers and others to further investigate the possibility and effects of that proposed legislation.
Mancl said Maryland hospitals and facilities have been collecting data involving violent incidents, thanks to workplace violence prevention guidelines and mandated reporting across those workplaces.
She hasn’t seen any public studies related to that new reporting and data, she added.
Like Ciliberti, Mancl also said there needs to be careful thought put into what language is implemented — such as what constitutes a “willful assault” versus other situations involving patients.
No matter how Ciliberti’s proposal might change in the coming months, his proposal has local support. Cheryl Cioffi, senior vice president, chief operating officer and chief nursing officer at Frederick Health, said the health system supports health care workers being protected under the law.