Senators Introduce Bipartisan Bill To Impose Harsher Penalties On Those Who Assault Healthcare Staff

Recent research shows that about two-third of clinicians have felt physically unsafe at their job. This week, lawmakers introduced bipartisan legislation to address this concerning trend of violence waged against healthcare workers by giving them federal protections that mirror those for aircraft and airport workers. 

The bill, called the Safety from Violence for Healthcare Employees Act, would make it a federal crime to assault hospital workers. It was introduced by Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Florida) and Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia). 

The legislation can be thought of as the Senate’s rendition of the SAVE Act — the SAVE Act is a 2019 bipartisan bill that was reintroduced in Congress this year by Reps. Madeleine Dean (D-Pennsylvania) and Larry Bucshon (R-Indiana), but it has failed to advance.

Even though nearly 40 states have passed laws to intensify penalties for violent acts committed against healthcare personnel, there is currently no federal law protecting hospital employees from assault or intimidation. 

If the senators’ bill is passed, people who knowingly assault hospital employees and contractors will face a fine and/or a prison sentence of up to 10 years. If someone uses a deadly or dangerous weapon against a healthcare worker, or if they commit violence against a healthcare worker during a public emergency, the maximum prison sentence increases to 20 years. 

The proposed legislation provides a clause of reasonable defense if the violent act is committed by someone with physical, mental or intellectual disabilities.

The new bill has received positive feedback from several healthcare groups — including American Hospital Association, the American College of Emergency Physicians, the Emergency Nurses Association and America’s Essential Hospitals.

Healthcare groups have been clamoring for federal protections for their workers amid increasing rates of violence. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the rate of injuries from violent attacks waged against healthcare staff rose by 63% from 2011 to 2018. Things have only gotten worse since the pandemic — Press Ganey research shows that there were two attacks waged against nursing staff each hour in the second quarter of last year.

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

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