Listening Session Underscores Need for Legislative Action to Protect Pennsylvania’s Health Care Workers
May 16, 2019
Pennsylvania’s hospitals are open 24/7/365 to treat everyone, regardless of their background, health status, or ability to pay. Hospital staff work tirelessly to provide excellent care to patients; and tragically, sometimes sacrifice their own wellbeing or safety in the process.
While health care workers comprise only 13 percent of the United States workforce, 60 percent of workplace assaults occur in health care settings. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health identified a 72 percent increase in the rate of workplace violence injuries within its Occupational Health Safety Network-participating hospitals. The data is compelling and unsettling, given that health care workers take care of people at their most vulnerable time, and work to keep them safe.
Local lawmakers recently had an opportunity to hear firsthand from hospital staff and leadership at Lankenau Medical Center, a part of Main Line Health, about ways they can improve workplace safety for health care staff throughout the commonwealth. Staff have identified a recent uptick in the instances of violence against health care workers, triggered by increases in stress, pain, anger, behavioral health issues, and substance use as major contributing factors.
“At Main Line Health, safety is our chief priority—and that equally encompasses the safety of our patients, visitors, and staff,” said Jack Lynch, FACHE, President and CEO, Main Line Health.
“We were honored to have led the charge in last week’s forum with The Hospital and Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania (HAP). I am incredibly proud of our staff members who so bravely shared their personal experiences from either witnessing or being the victim of violent acts against health care workers, and for expressing so eloquently the benefits of the proposed bills. Main Line Health’s experience aligns with that of hospitals across the state and the nation, and we are grateful to partner with HAP to bring together our regional lawmakers in this important conversation.”
During the forum, several Main Line Health employees shared their first-hand experiences of physical and verbal abuse by patients and their families or visitors. And Main Line Health executives shared examples of how they are working to assess and improve their own safety for all their employees.
“Nurses’ primary instincts are to advocate, care for, and comfort their patients,” said Barbara Wadsworth, DNP, RN, Chief Nursing Officer, Main Line Health.
“Sadly, and with greater frequency, health care workers across the nation find themselves needing to protect themselves from those they are trying to help. At Main Line Health, we encourage transparency around this important issue so that we can work with our public safety partners to address and improve our care environment. I want to express my deepest thanks to the staff who shared their stories with our local legislators and for helping to raise awareness and reinforce the importance of these bills so that we can work to minimize these safety issues health care workers are faced with every day.”
Two lawmakers spoke about their plans to address these issues and improve the safety of health care workers. Senator Judy Ward (R–Blair) outlined Senate Bill 351, her plan to raise the penalty for assaulting a health care worker while performing a job duty from a misdemeanor to a felony. Representative Pam Snyder (D–Greene) then shared how House Bill 39 would remove the requirement in Pennsylvania law that hospitals include health care staff’s last name on their identification badges.
During the forum, several lawmakers in attendance expressed their support of Senate Bill 351 and House Bill 36, both of which remain in the Judiciary and Health Committees respectively, and indicated that they will sign on as co-sponsors. In attendance were Senators Tom Killion (R–Chester, Delaware) and Daylin Leach (D–Delaware, Montgomery), and Representatives Mary Jo Daley (D–Montgomery) and Steven Malagari (D–Montgomery). Staff members for Senator Katie Muth (D–Berks, Chester, Montgomery) and Representatives Stephen Kinsey (D–Philadelphia), Brian Kirkland (D–Delaware), Danielle Otten (D–Chester), and Christopher Quinn (R–Delaware) also were in attendance.
“Pennsylvania’s health care workers are committed to caring for and protecting their patients, and we must do the same for them,” said Andy Carter, president and CEO of HAP.
“These common sense bills would improve health care staff privacy, prevent dangerous incidents, and align Pennsylvania law with workplace best practices. HAP and Pennsylvania’s hospital community urge the General Assembly to send these bills to the Governor for his signature right away.”