Lawmakers to introduce bill to increase penalties against those who harm health care workers
New Jersey lawmakers are considering a new bill that would strengthen the penalties against those who threaten or harm health care workers.
Some hospital systems across southern New Jersey came together on Thursday to show their support for the plan.
“It’s not OK that staff come in worried about whether or not they will go home in the same shape that they came in,” says Amy Mansu, president and CEO of Inspira Health.
The bill would toughen the penalties for anyone who threatens, intimidates or assaults a health care worker.
"The bill gives a judge discretion for he or she to have certain factors that they can consider if an issue rises to a threat, intimidation or actual violence and elevate a crime to a third or fourth-degree crime that would have increased penalties of jail time as well as fines,” says state Assembly Majority Leader Lou Greenwald.
A judge will also be able to tack on anger management courses or community service to the sentence.
The hope is that the stricter penalties will help someone think before they act.
Dr. Anthony Mazzarelli with Cooper University Health Care says that this type of violence is not new, but has increased during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s not what I’ve heard, but it’s also what I’ve seen, which is every possible type of negative interaction – from kicking to punching to spitting. All those different things,” Mazzarelli says.
The bill won’t only protect doctors and nurses, but anyone who works in the health care setting.
“The reality is that front line of defense may be the greeter in the lobby that we all came through today… The security guard that is on the front line to break up that fight and separates. The cafeteria worker who has no protection when they’re in there and a family is struggling through stress and something that is impacting them,” Greenwald says.
The bill will be introduced next week.
Officials say health care workers are five times more likely to encounter workplace violence than other professions.