Health Care Workplace Safety — Equal Protection Under the Law

Now more than ever, health care is a team sport. Many different kinds of health care professionals — from doctors and nurses to physician’s assistants and social workers — work together to take care of patients.

When it comes to laws designed to promote safety, doesn’t the entire team deserve the same protection?

The importance of health care workplace safety

Hospitals and health systems have invested in security personnel and taken other measures designed to provide a safe environment for patients, families, visitors, and employees.

Violence — or intentional harm — is an issue throughout our society. Like schools, churches, and other public settings, hospitals must work to prevent, and be prepared for, this possibility.

In some ways, hospitals have special circumstances to consider. Patients and families coping with grave mental and physical illnesses, or traumatic injuries, are often at their most vulnerable and emotional. That includes patients being treated for gunshot injuries or other kinds of physical violence.

Laws that hold people responsible for assaults on health care workers can serve as a deterrent. But right now, in Pennsylvania, the law treats some health care professionals differently than others.

Extending the same legal protections to the entire health care team

Right now, under Pennsylvania law, it’s a felony to assault and cause bodily harm to a doctor, nurse, EMT, or other similar employee when they’re working. But if a physician’s assistant, social worker, or therapist suffers the same fate, their assailant would face only a second-degree misdemeanor charge.

It makes sense to provide special protections for health care workers should they be assaulted and injured while doing their jobs. But the current law leaves out a broad swath of health care employees. State Senator Judy Ward (R-Blair/Fulton), a registered nurse, has reintroduced legislation to extend the special protection to all health care practitioners.

No health care professional should be considered more important than another when it comes to being protected from harm. It is time to close the loophole in this law and provide equal protection for everyone who cares for patients.

Healthy Me PA will keep you informed about the progress of this important legislation.