Bill to Protect Wyoming Healthcare Workers Against Violence Moves Ahead
CHEYENNE - A bill to help protect health-care workers from violent patients narrowly passed a House committee Friday.
The House Judiciary Committee voted 5-4 to recommend approval of Senate File 114. The bill will move to the full House floor for debate. It has cleared the Senate.
SF 114 proposes that people who assault health-care workers who treat them could face up to 12 years in prison, a $5,000 fine or both. The bill classifies such attacks as aggravated assault and battery, which is a felony. Those who assault health-care workers would face stiffer penalties.
It's not uncommon for health-care providers to be injured in the course of their jobs, said Rep. Norine Kasperik, R-Gillette. She and Sen. Leslie Nutting, R-Cheyenne, are the bill's sponsors.
"You put yourself out there on the line and sometime deal with abuses," Kasperik said to the committee. "As an old ER nurse, I've been kicked and bit and hit and followed home. Those things have happened over the years. It certainly is a problem that has escalated over time."
Rep. Kendall Kroeker, R-Evansville, voted in favor of the bill. But he wondered why the offenses wouldn't be covered under existing laws. Kasperik said that in some cases, charges never were followed up.
Several nurses and other health-care workers told the committee of being attacked by patients. One was off work for 10 months.
"We go to work every day and have a fear of being assaulted," said Brenda Hammock, a paramedic with American Medical Response, the local ambulance service. "We're health-care workers. We're peacemakers."
The bill is not targeted at an ill patient who strikes a health-care worker, she said. It's for the "mean drunk" or other patients who think they can assault the person who treats them. The bill would give her a tool to tell those people that they could face aggravated assault charges if they hit her.
"When somebody knowingly and willfully does this to us, we need to make a statement in health care," she said.
Melissa Stevens works at Cheyenne Regional Medical Center and told of the time when she was assaulted twice at the emergency room while police officers and sheriff's deputies were there.
Both patients were drunk. One hit her in the face and was charged with assault. The other person kicked her, but didn't hurt her.
The law enforcement officer said he already was charged with something else so they wouldn't consider her assault.
"I was basically turned down on that assault," she said. A bill would maybe make a law enforcement office charge the attacker, she said.
CRMC nurse Elizabeth Champlain said the medical staff is well trained to protect themselves and everyone else in their environment. The bill would set a precedent and send a message that "this is not acceptable in our society," she said.
Neil Hilton of the Wyoming Hospital Association said the problem occurs at other hospitals.
But Rep. Keith Gingery, R-Jackson, didn't want people to think there would be dramatic change if the bill passed.
"We need to have more discussions with police departments and prosecutors" about pursuing such cases, he said.
Rep. Marti Halverson, R-Etna, said that if the bill passed, she hoped hospitals like CRMC could put up big signs that say, "If you hit one of us, you ain't seen nothing yet."
Copyright 2013 Cheyenne Newspapers, Inc.All Rights Reserved