‘Punched, kicked, spit on’: Va. health care workers say they face more violence since pandemic

VCU Emergency hospital entrance in Richmond.
VCU Emergency hospital entrance in Richmond.(Parker Michels-Boyce / For The Virginia Mercury)
Published: Jun. 21, 2022 at 11:16 AM EDT
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Expressing frustration with what they say are increasing incidents of violence at work, doctors at the Virginia College of Emergency Physicians are urging federal lawmakers to support a U.S. Senate bill that would give greater protections to health care workers.

“I have been assaulted by patients hundreds of times —  have been punched, kicked, spit on, and had objects thrown at me and weapons pointed at me. All this from the patients whose lives I’m trying to save,” one doctor who has worked as an emergency physician for three decades wrote in a letter to Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, Democrats from Virginia.

The emergency physician, who goes unnamed in the letter, isn’t alone. The Bureau of Labor Statistics says that 70 percent of private sector workers who “experienced trauma from nonfatal workplace violence” in 2019 worked in health care or related social assistance roles, making them five times more likely to be injured by violence at work than others.

S.4182, the Workplace Violence Prevention for Health Care and Social Service Workers Act, would direct the Department of Labor to create enforceable standards to ensure health care and social services workplaces implement violence prevention, tracking and response systems. A companion bill in the House was passed in 2021. In 2019, the Virginia General Assembly passed legislation making it a Class 1 misdemeanor to threaten to injure or kill health care workers.

There is no comprehensive statewide dataset on health care workplace violence for Virginia, but the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association says violent attacks on health care workers are on the rise. VHHA established a Workplace Safety Task Force in 2020 that is collecting data to find a baseline measurement for statewide injuries, as well as “sharing educational resources and best practices” to reduce such injuries, according to VHHA spokesperson Julian Walker.

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NBC12 is a partner with The Virginia Mercury, an independent, nonprofit online news...
NBC12 is a partner with The Virginia Mercury, an independent, nonprofit online news organization covering state government and policy.(Virginia Mercury)

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