New Law Protects NJ Healthcare Workers From Threats and Assaults
In response to increased attacks on healthcare workers in recent years, Governor Phil Murphy signed the ‘Health Care Heroes Violence Prevention Act’ to make it a criminal offense to intentionally threaten healthcare professionals or volunteers to intimidate them or interfere with their work. The act also establishes additional penalties against individuals who assault healthcare workers or volunteers.
THE HEALTH CARE HEROES VIOLENCE PREVENTION ACT
Under the bill (A-3199), approved P.L.2023, c.48, a person who knowingly and willfully makes, delivers, or sends a threat
against healthcare workers covered by the act is guilty of a disorderly persons offense, which is punishable by imprisonment of up to six months and/or a fine of up to $1,000. For individuals convicted of assault against the covered workers, this act allows them to be sentenced to an anger management course of up to 12 months and community service of up to 30 days.
Violence against healthcare workers (HCWs) is a serious problem exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. HCWs are more likely to experience violence than workers in any other occupation, and the pandemic has created several factors that have increased the risk of violence against them.
FACTORS CONTRIBUTING TO THE INCREASE IN VIOLENCE
One of the main factors that have contributed to the increase in violence against HCWs during the pandemic is the stress and anxiety that many people are experiencing. The pandemic has created great uncertainty and fear, and some people are taking their frustrations out on HCWs. In addition, the pandemic has led to a shortage of HCWs, which has put a strain on those still working. This can increase stress and burnout, making HCWs more vulnerable to violence.
Another factor contributing to increased violence against HCWs during the pandemic is the spread of misinformation and disinformation about COVID-19. Some people have come to believe that HCWs are intentionally harming patients with COVID-19 or that they are part of a conspiracy to control the population. This misinformation can lead to anger and resentment, sometimes escalating to violence.
The pandemic has also created new challenges for HCWs, such as having to wear personal protective equipment (PPE) for long periods. PPE can be uncomfortable and restrictive, making it difficult for HCWs to communicate with patients and families. This can lead to frustration and anger, sometimes escalating to violence.
The violence that HCWs face can have several negative consequences. It can lead to physical injuries, psychological trauma, and job stress. It can also lead to HCWs leaving the profession, further exacerbating the shortage of HCWs.
PROTECTION HEALTH CARE WORKERS
“If there’s one thing the COVID-19 pandemic made abundantly clear, it is the essential role healthcare workers play in our society,” said Governor Murphy. “Growing threats and attacks against these courageous heroes are unacceptable. We owe healthcare workers, including volunteers and employees in healthcare settings, our gratitude, and respect. This law will provide greater protections for health care workers in our state to help deter both physical and verbal acts of violence against these professionals.”
“Healthcare professionals perform critical and indispensable services for the people of our state, often under very difficult and emotional circumstances,” said Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin. “As the head of the Department responsible for licensing and regulating health care professionals and on behalf of New Jersey law enforcement who recognize medical personnel as invaluable partners in carrying out our public safety mission, I thank Governor Murphy for signing legislation that strengthens the law protecting health care professionals from undue threats, abuse, and assault.”
“Protecting health care workers is essential to maintaining a strong and viable workforce and ensuring public health,” said Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli. “Their tireless commitment to improving health care delivery and saving lives should be without the additional worry of their physical and mental well-being.”
POSTING WRITTEN NOTICES
The act applies to health care professionals and any volunteer or employee of a health care professional or health care facility while performing their official duties. Healthcare facilities and certain physicians must display a written notice to notify the public that it is a crime to assault healthcare workers and volunteers and is subject to a fine, imprisonment, or both.
The bill's sponsors include Senator Troy Singleton and Assembly Majority Leader Louis Greenwald, Senator Fred Madden and Assembly members Shavonda Sumter, Sadaf Jaffer, Lisa Swain, and Daniel Benson.
“Over the last three years, our nurses, doctors and health care professionals were on the frontline of the COVID pandemic – often putting their own health at risk,” said Senator Singleton. “Sadly, this figurative battlefield turned literal, with people physically assaulting these essential workers. This is simply unacceptable. This law will send a clear message that our health care workers must be treated with the respect, decency and civility they deserve.”
“We could not have gone through the past several years without the dedication of our frontline healthcare workers. They are truly heroes in this pandemic. Unfortunately, these frontline healthcare heroes have reported a dramatic increase in violent acts since 2020,” said Assembly Majority Leader Greenwald. “These repeated acts of violence against our healthcare heroes are simply unacceptable. This law will strengthen protections for these frontline workers by enhancing penalties and awareness about violence in the workplace.”
“The law provides important new protections for health care workers. These healthcare workers provide critical services for their patients,” said Cathleen Bennett, President & CEO of the New Jersey Hospital Association. “Unfortunately, instead of showing appreciation and patience to healthcare workers, there has been an increase in workers being treated poorly. When that leads to violence, we must act to protect healthcare workers. With the enactment of this measure, Gov. Murphy, Senator Singleton and Majority Leader Greenwald send a strong message that the tireless efforts of healthcare workers are appreciated and valued.”
“The Health Care Heroes Violence Prevention Act is vital to ensure the safety of our bedside healthcare workers,” said Doug Placa, Executive Director, JNESO, District Council 1 IUOE-AFL-CIO. “They shouldn’t have to provide good quality patient care while constantly looking over their shoulder. They should be afforded the right to working in a safe atmosphere. In addition to the employer’s responsibility, this law will further protect our precious asset-healthcare workers! We applaud the sponsors of this legislation and thank the Governor for signing it.”
“Healthcare workers are five times more likely to be assaulted than any other workforce, adding to the many reasons healthcare workers are migrating out of the profession,” said Debbie White, HPAE President. “We applaud the Legislature and the Governor’s office for the passing of this bill into law – the Health Care Heroes Violence Prevention Act. It's a step forward in taking reasonable measures to minimize our risks. It’s time to treat workplace violence in healthcare settings with the seriousness this crisis warrants. If our hospitals and nursing homes are unsafe for workers, they are unsafe for our patients too.”
“Violence against healthcare workers is all too common, and it is crucial that we do all we can to ensure that these frontline heroes are able to do their jobs safely and free from physical harm, threats, or intimidation,” said Rhina Molina, Executive Vice President of 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East. “Every worker has the right to a safe workplace, and in the field of healthcare—where often every second counts to save a life—patients are also put at risk when a caregiver is maltreated. We applaud Governor Murphy, the Senate, and Assembly for passing this law that will help to safeguard all of our state’s healthcare workers.”
WORKERS' COMPENSATION BENEFITS
NJ healthcare workers are entitled to workers' compensation insurance benefits if they are assaulted at work. When a public health nurse was robbed and brutally attacked by several males and suffered a fractured nose as well as several other compensable disabilities, including a concussion, facial scarring, sinus disorders, and post-traumatic nightmares, the court, in accordance with the 1979 amendments to the Workers' Compensation Act, required that the multiple, separate injuries arising out of the same accident be compensated cumulatively under the revised schedule of payments that increased weekly awards as the percentage of disability increased. Poswiatowski v. Standard Chlorine Chemical Co., 96 N.J. 321, 475 A.2d 1257 (1984).
Recommended Citation: Jon L. Gelman, New Law Protects NJ Healthcare Workers From Threats and Assaults, www.gelmans.com (May 10, 2023), https://www.gelmans.com/ReadingRoom/tabid/65/ArtMID/1482/ArticleID/1101/preview/true/Default.aspx
Jon L. Gelman of Wayne, NJ, is the author of NJ Workers’ Compensation Law (Thomson-Reuters) and co-author of the national treatise Modern Workers’ Compensation Law (Thomson-Reuters). For over five decades, the Law Offices of Jon L Gelman 1.973.696.7900 firstname.lastname@example.org have represented injured workers and their families who have suffered occupational accidents and illnesses.
© 2023 Jon L Gelman. All rights reserved.
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Updated: May 22, 2023
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