Bill mandates jail for assaults on ER workers

By Laura Geller - bio | email

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) – Did you know according to the federal government, emergency room doctors and nurses face a greater risk of workplace violence than the average US worker? One Virginia lawmaker wants to try to change that with a new bill.

The law is hitting close to home here in Central Virginia. An incident several years ago at Chippenham Hospital is a perfect example of what could go wrong. A woman went on a shooting rampage at the ER. Two people died and several more were wounded.  It's a risk ER workers take every day.

Emotions run high and adrenaline flows in emergency rooms. Inside Johnston-Willis Hospital, staff is keenly aware of the possibility of violence because of the unique circumstances they face.

"With that comes patients and family members and friends that didn't anticipate an emergency to occur in their day," said registered nurse and the hospital Chief Operating Officer Tracy Kemp Stallings.

Under a proposal set to go before the General Assembly, anyone who knowingly assaults an ER doctor or nurse could face 15 days in jail. The bill sponsor, Virginia Beach Delegate Chris Stolle, said these workers are 400% more likely to face violence. Kemp Stallings said the numbers make sense.

"Not knowing who's coming in and out of this publicly available building, there's a lot of vulnerabilities," she explained.

Emergency rooms take their own precautions. All HCA hospitals have security officers on hand at all times. Local police officers are also contracted to help with security situations.

Despite those efforts, the fear something could happen is always in the backs of ER workers' minds when they need to concentrate on patient care. Those we talked to hope this new law could deter the crime and shift the focus.

The current assault statute provides protections for EMTs, police and firefighters. Del. Stolle said those helping inside hospitals should be looked after, as well. Lawmakers will debate that this session.

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