When Destiny heard scre
In May, Republican Gov. Brian Kemp signed a law that boosts criminal penalties for assaults against hospital workers and allows health care facilities in the state to create independent police forces. The law is a response to that testimony as well as hospital lobbying and data documenting a rise in violence against health care workers. In enacting the law, Georgia joined other states attempting to reverse a rise in violence over the last several years through stiffer criminal penalties and enhanced law enforcement.
Nearly 40 states have laws that establish or increase penalties for assaults on health care workers, according to the American Nurses Association. And lawmakers in 29 states have approved or are working on similar laws, as well as ones that allow the creation of hospital police forces. Members of those forces can carry firearms and make arrests. In addition, they have higher training requirements than noncertified officers such as security guards, according to the International Association for Healthcare Security and Safety.
Groups representing nurses and hospitals argue that such laws address the daily reality of aggressive or agitated patients who sometimes become violent. Still, such interventions are relatively new. Critics worry that establishing hospital police forces will escalate violence in health care settings and could have downstream effects.
“I worry about all the reasons patients have to not trust me and trust the health care system,” said Elinore Kaufman, a trauma surgeon at the University of Pennsylvania.
Health care workers are five times as likely to experience violence as employees in other industries, according to federal data. The day after Kemp signed the Safer Hospitals Act into law, a person opened fire in a midtown Atlanta medical office, killing one woman and injuring four others, including workers at the medical practice.
ams, she raced to a hospital room where she saw a patient assaulting a care technician. As a charge nurse at Northeast Georgia Health System, she was trained to de-escalate violent situations.
But that day in spring 2021, as Destiny intervened, for several minutes the patient punched, kicked, and bit her. And by the time a team of security guards and other nurses could free her, the patient had ripped out chunks of Destiny’s hair.
“We are not protected on our floors,” she said as she recapped the story during testimony later that year to the Georgia Senate Study Committee on Violence Against Healthcare Workers. Destiny used only her first name at the hearing, for fear of retaliation for speaking out against the patient who assaulted her.