New Michigan Bills to Stiffen Penalties for Assaulting Health Workers

Violent events against workers increased by 200% in the last five years at Sparrow Hospital in Lansing, chief medical officer for the hospital Denny Martin said.

By Michigan Advance

June 28, 2023

BY ANNA LIZ NICHOLS, MICHIGAN ADVANCE

LANSING—Assaulting doctors, nurses or other employees of a health care system would have heightened penalties under legislation that cleared the Michigan House Tuesday.

Earlier in June, health care workers told the House Criminal Justice Committee about their colleagues getting assaulted and threatened while doing their job, often by upset family members of patients.

Health care workers in Michigan are at a “breaking point,” Michelle Pena, chief nursing officer for Trinity Health Grand Rapids said. Trinity tracks days of work lost to employees due to violent encounters.

“We have had colleagues off work for injuries such as concussions, internal bleeding of a pregnant woman, a fractured jaw, dislocated shoulders, severe anxiety from assault, are some examples,” Pena said during the June 13 committee meeting. “Unfortunately … I was informed that one of our colleagues suffered three fractured facial bones and is under the care of a plastic surgeon.”

The bills HB 4520 and HB 4521, which the House passed Tuesday with bipartisan support and sponsorship, would increase the possible fines associated with assault charges if the victim is a health professional or volunteer performing their job responsibilities. Both bills were sponsored by Reps. Kelly Breen (D-Novi) and Mike Mueller (R-Linden). HB 4520 passed 97-11 and HB 4521 passed 97-9.

Simple assault, a misdemeanor, carries a possible $500 fine and 93-day jail sentence. If the victim is a professional or volunteer, the fine increases to $1,000 under the legislation.

Aggravated assault, another misdemeanor, carries a $1,000 fine and a one-year sentence for inflicting serious injury on a victim. The legislation would bump that penalty up to $2,000.

Assault with a deadly weapon is a felony punishable with up to a $2,000 fine or four years in prison. The legislation would double the fine to $4,000.

None of the fee increases under the legislation apply to patients who are receiving care from the health professional or volunteer. A House Fiscal Agency analysis of the two bills specified that “such a person could still be subject to prosecution” under state law.

Health professionals offering testimony at the committee meeting earlier in the month noted that many of the reported assaults by their colleagues were suffered at the hands of patients’ loved ones who believed their loved one wasn’t getting adequate care. Emergency nurse Cody Ball, representing the Michigan Emergency Nurses Association, recalled getting a urine sample thrown all over him by a patient’s significant other who said they were waiting too long to get an X-ray.

On behalf of his colleagues at the association, Ball told the lawakers stories of Michigan nurses getting choked and parents of patients threatening violence.

The issue of violence against health workers is getting worse and coincides with general burnout as health care workers are leaving the industry after the height of the COVID pandemic, providers told lawmakers at the committee meeting earlier this month. Violent events against workers increased by 200% in the last five years at Sparrow Hospital in Lansing, chief medical officer for the hospital Denny Martin said.

“In an environment like we have today where resources are so scarce and time is precious and the continued work shortage is present. We need to do everything that we can to preserve and protect those frontline workers providing the care that we need,” Martin said.

The bills will now head over to the state Senate for consideration.

This coverage was republished from Michigan Advance pursuant to a Creative Commons license.

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