As violence against people who work in hospitals and nursing homes continues to grow, a plan is moving forward to increase penalties for threatening a health care worker in New Jersey.

Assemblyman Lou Greenwald, D-Camden, said he was disturbed to find out “health care workers were five times more likely to suffer from workplace violence than other workers and we’ve seen those numbers only increase during the pandemic.”

He said he decided to introduce legislation to toughen penalties “so that those health care workers across the spectrum know that we’ve heard their concerns, we want to help them during this time as much as they’ve tried to help us.”

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Greenwald noted as the pandemic began, health care workers went to work on the front lines every day “trying to make sure people were healthy and safe, and they should never have to go to work and worry about the fact that they could end up as a patient in that facility at the end of the day because they face violence themselves.”

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The measure, A3199, establishes threats against a health care professional or any worker at a health care facility as a disorderly persons offense, which could be punishable by up to six months in prison and or a fine of up to $1000.

The legislation would also give judges the leeway to mandate an anger management course or 30 days of community service for a defendant.

Why attack a health care worker?

Greenwald said he believes “a lot of this stems back to the stress that was caused by the pandemic: people losing their jobs, people being sick, and then the unknown, how the virus affected people differently.”

He said no matter what difficulties someone may be going through there must be zero tolerance for them to lash out and attack a health care worker.

“What this does is give that judge the discretion for he or she to look at the facts of that case and increase the penalties around that,’ he said.

Greenwald noted a survey of more than 5,000 registered nurses in September of 2021 found that 31% of them working in hospitals faced an increase in workplace violence, which was up from 22% earlier that year.

The bill defines “healthcare professional” as a person licensed, certified, registered, or otherwise authorized to work in a health care facility.

It also requires health care facilities to display a written notice stating “It is a crime to assault a health care worker. Any person who assaults a health care worker shall be subject to a fine, imprisonment, or both under the New Jersey Code of Criminal Justice.”

The measure, which is now being considered by the Assembly Law and Public Safety committee, could be voted on in the coming weeks.

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