With the increasing number of COVID-19 coronavirus cases reported by our nation’s hospitals, it is easy to overlook the continuing violence perpetrated against hospital workers. A report published last year said that in healthcare institutions, “violent altercations are so common that most employees consider them to be simply part of the job.”
In North Carolina, attacking a hospital worker anywhere on hospital grounds is a Class D felony. Any worker attacked and injured badly enough to miss a week of work may qualify for workers’ compensation benefits. Workers’ compensation insurance, which most businesses in North Carolina are required to carry, provides paid medical care and other benefits to employees injured on the job.
The Raleigh workers’ compensation attorneys at Hardison & Cochran can help if you are a healthcare worker injured by violence in your workplace. We can help you file a workers’ compensation claim to make sure you get all of the benefits you are entitled to receive by law.
Understanding Workplace Violence in Hospitals
A May 2019 report in the American Journal of Managed Care (AJMC) said that 75 percent of the nearly 25,000 workplace assaults in the U.S. each year happen in healthcare settings. The study cited a 2018 survey by the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) and the Emergency Nurses Association (ENA). The survey said about 70 percent of emergency nurses reported having been hit or kicked by an unruly patient and almost 50 percent of emergency physicians reporting being physically assaulted at work.
Many acts of violence in hospitals and other healthcare settings go unreported, the AJMC and other healthcare reporting says.
Most violence against healthcare workers is committed by patients, their families, or their friends. Fear and illness are major contributors to agitation and aggression from patients, the AJMC says.
“Patients are at their worst, they’re feeling horrible, they’re ill, they’re frightened and vulnerable. Their family members are also frightened and stressed out, and people lash out,” Michelle Mahon, RN, nursing practice representative for National Nurses United, told AJMC.
Medical workers interviewed by AJMC reported shootings, daily verbal abuse, being spit on, acts of violence between staff members, and “a towel rack that was ripped off the wall and used to beat a nurse.”
“The inpatient room, then the psychiatric unit and the emergency department, in that order, is where most instances of violence occur,” Mahon said.
“Every day – every day – something occurs. I have not heard of a single institution where this does not happen,” Dennis Taylor, president of the North Carolina Nurses Association, told WFMY TV in Greensboro last November. “I was struck by a patient.”
Dozens of nurses and other healthcare workers in North Carolina described how they had been assaulted while on the job. Many cited the opioid crisis, understaffing, and lack of support for complaints as some of the drivers behind the attacks.
Speaking to AJMC, Schipp Ames, vice president of Communications, Education, and Member Services for the South Carolina Hospital Association, cited the long-term effects of the trauma workplace violence causes. He said the association had had a number of nurses that had said that they had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder by their therapists.
What Protections Do Healthcare Workers Have?
Healthcare workers’ unions and advocacy organizations continually push for expanded legal protection against workplace violence. Last November, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Workplace Violence for Healthcare and Social Service Workers Act. If the bill is passed by the Senate and signed into law, healthcare organizations would be required to better protect employees from workplace violence.
The law would direct OSHA to issue a final standard for workplace violence prevention (which carries the effect of law) that is at least as comprehensive as OSHA’s “Guidelines for Preventing Workplace Violence for Healthcare and Social Service Workers.”
OSHA’s guidelines address the underreporting of workplace violence in the healthcare industry by advocating a system of recordkeeping and program evaluation in which:
- Employers must record all serious occupational injuries and illnesses, including those sustained by an assault, which includes sexual assault and employee-on-employee assaults.
- Healthcare and social service workers must be informed when a patient has a history of past violence, drug abuse, or criminal activity.
- Employers must establish a reporting system and review reports to identify trends with the objective of implementing measures to reduce the number and severity of workplace assaults.
The law would also require employers to identify risks, specify solutions, and provide training, reporting, and incident investigations. It would also provide protection from retaliation for reporting violent incidents.
As healthcare workers wait for the Senate to act, they and their employers have the OSHA guidelines and other OSHA tools and resources about worker safety in hospitals to draw upon. Many hospitals have adopted enhanced security measures, alarm systems, and protocols to identify high-risk patients, AJMC says.
In North Carolina, attacking a healthcare worker has been a felony since 2015 and Gov. Roy Cooper signed a law in 2019 that makes assaulting a healthcare worker a Class D felony, which is punishable by up to 13 years in prison.
How a North Carolina Workers’ Compensation Attorney Can Help
If you are injured in an incident of workplace violence and cannot return to work, North Carolina’s workers’ compensation program pays all of your medical bills and about two-thirds of your lost income. Once your workers’ comp claim is approved, you will begin to receive benefit checks within a few weeks.
However, workers’ compensation insurers often dispute claims, by saying the worker’s injury was not related to his or her job. This can cause a valid claim to be rejected.
If your workers’ compensation claim is denied, or you believe that you are not receiving all the benefits to meet your needs, you have the right to appeal that decision. But this is a complex process that requires the injured worker to go head-to-head with insurers in a hearing.
The Raleigh workers’ compensation attorneys at Hardison & Cochran can assist you with filing a claim or appeal to seek all the benefits you deserve.
Our attorneys serve injured healthcare workers across North Carolina, including those located in Raleigh, Durham, Cary, Fayetteville, Dunn, and Southern Pines in the Sandhills; Greensboro and the Triad; and Wilmington. If you or someone you love has suffered a workplace injury or illness, call the experienced North Carolina workers’ compensation lawyers at Hardison & Cochran toll-free at (800) 434-8399 or fill out our online contact form.