Whitmer signs laws to protect healthcare workers in Michigan

By Kyle Kaminski

December 6, 2023

Two bills signed into law this week will stiffen the criminal penalties for people convicted of assaulting doctors, nurses, or other employees of healthcare systems in Michigan.  

MICHIGAN—Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said two bipartisan bills signed into law this week will help curb violence directed at healthcare workers, better protect doctors and nurses on the job, and ultimately incentivize more Michiganders to pursue jobs in the medical field.

“We owe a debt of gratitude to the doctors, nurses, and health care workers who routinely step up to protect our communities and save lives,” Whitmer said in a statement. “Unfortunately, health care workers face rising rates of bullying, viciousness, and violence. These bills will protect health care workers and help Michiganders in the industry, as well as those who are considering a career in health care, know that the state of Michigan has their back.”

This summer, healthcare workers reportedly told state lawmakers that they had reached a “breaking point” due to violence on the job—including testimony about their colleagues getting assaulted and threatened in healthcare facilities, often by upset family members or patients.

“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,” said Michelle Pena, chief nursing officer for Trinity Health Grand Rapids.

The issue of violence against health workers has reportedly gotten worse in recent years and coincides with an uptick in general burnout as health care workers are leaving the industry after the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Violent events against workers reportedly increased by 200% in the last five years at Sparrow Hospital in Lansing, according to recent testimony from hospital officials.

Starting next year, House Bill 4520 and 4521—sponsored by state Reps. Kelly Breen (D-Novi) and Mike Mueller (R-Linden)—will increase the fines against those who assault health professionals who are on the job at the time of the crime. It also requires operators of health facilities to post signage that clearly describe the newly enhanced fines under state law.

Under the new laws, the fines will double from their current level—ranging from $1,000 or $2,000 for two tiers of misdemeanor charges, to $4,000 for felony assault with a deadly weapon.

“Doctors, nurses, and other medical workers—part of the team of frontline heroes who saw us through the worst of the pandemic—deserve greater protections from physical violence on the job,” Breen said in a statement. “I’m proud of the work to get this bipartisan package signed into law, and I want to thank the nurses and other advocates who pushed for this critical legislation.” 

READ MORE: Whitmer signs bills to protect healthcare for millions of Michiganders

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  • Kyle Kaminski

    Kyle Kaminski is an award-winning investigative journalist with more than a decade of experience covering news across Michigan. Prior to joining The ‘Gander, Kyle worked as the managing editor at City Pulse in Lansing and as a reporter for the Traverse City Record-Eagle.

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