Bill aims to protect healthcare workers from violent patients

Jan 17, 2022, 6:44 PM
(The Utah State Capitol.  Photo: Paul Nelson, January 17, 2022.)...
(The Utah State Capitol. Photo: Paul Nelson, January 17, 2022.)
(The Utah State Capitol. Photo: Paul Nelson, January 17, 2022.)

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah’s 2022 legislative session kicks off Tuesday, and lawmakers will be debating topics ranging from no-knock warrants to transgender athletes in sports.  One of the bills up for discussion would enhance the penalties for violent patients who attacks a healthcare worker, which the bill’s sponsor says is a growing problem.

Violent patients

We’ve all seen videos on social media of people losing their cool in public. Disgruntled customers or neighbors lashing out at workers for whatever reason.  District 42 Representative Robert Spendlove says the medical industry is not exempt from aggressive customers.  He says hospital administrators are reporting a growing number of violent patients kicking, punching and biting their employees.

Spendlove said, “A nurse was hit so hard that she got a concussion.  There was a worker that was bitten so hard that he bled profusely.”

Enhanced penalties

Currently, there’s a federal law that enhances the penalties for attacks on emergency room workers, according to Spendlove.  He says someone convicted of that would have to pay up to $2,500 in fines. That person would also get up to one year in prison.  However, he says the penalties are different if a healthcare worker is attacked outside of the ER.

“If you were to attack healthcare worker, it would be a $1,000 fine and six months in jail,” he said.

House Bill 32 would bring those enhanced penalties to attacks happening in hospitals, clinics and doctors’ offices, as long as those healthcare workers are on the job.  Spendlove says the bill was drafted so people with mental illness wouldn’t be held liable for what happens during a breakdown.

He said, “It applies to everyone, but those with mental health issues have special protections.”

Spendlove says the 2022 session might be impacted from the rising numbers of people infected with COVID-19.  He believes they’ll have to find ways to keep people protected from the omicron variant while they get their work done at the Capitol.

“One of the things that we have to do is we have to be flexible,” he said.

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Bill aims to protect healthcare workers from violent patients