Both registered and licensed practical nurses in New York are now protected by law from assault while on duty because of a bill that was signed this week. The new law makes it a class C and D felony for a person causing physical injury to a nurse.
NYSUT has been advocating for this bill for the past three years, along with members of the AFL-CIO nurses coalition including PEF, NYSNA, CSEA and 1199. While other health care professionals, such as firefighters and emergency medical technicians, have had this protection, nurses have not. At NYSUT"s health care lobby days, nurses have been telling lawmakers stories of their colleagues being thrown, kicked and punched by patients or family members.
"No member of the work force should be placed in harm's way, particularly without an avenue for recourse," said NYSUT Vice President Kathleen Donahue, whose office oversees issues involving health care professionals. "We have concrete examples of cases where our members have been injured, and it affects their ability to earn a living."
"We can't wait to let everybody know their efforts paid off," said Anne Goldman, special nursing representative to the UFT. "This was a grave injustice. Nurses have been victimized and there was no real penalty. This will make a difference in the culture of caring."
Goldman said just this past week a family member visiting a patient in an intensive care unit assaulted a pregnant nurse in a New York City hospital. Another assault 18 months ago left a nurse with a shattered jaw, face and ribs, and her nursing colleague with a concussion and shattered hand. Their pain continues.
It is not just the physical injuries that harm the nurses, Goldman said. "The trauma of the event lives on. They feel vulnerable and afraid."
The Assembly Memorandum of Support for passage of the bill states that countless acts of violence on emergency medical professionals include "intimidation, harassment, physical assault and numerous other forms of emotional, verbal and physical abuse that include choking, stabbing and threatening...A large percentage goes unreported." The behavior leads to lower job satisfaction and increased staff shortages, and "sends a message to those present that violence or abuse is an acceptable means of expression.
"Because the health care field is experiencing an overwhelming shortage of nurses, it is imperative that every measure be taken to ensure the protection of their safety," the message said. "These violent actions should have severe consequences."