Hurting a nurse is a felony

Assaulting a nurse is now a Class D felony under New York state law.

The Violence Against Nurses Law passed this week puts nurses into a protected group that includes police officers, firefighters and emergency responders. A physical attack on a registered nurse or licensed practical nurse (or one of the other service workers in the protected category) is considered a felony and is punishable by up to seven years in prison.

Workplace violence against nurses has been in the news a lot lately. A California psychiatric technician was allegedly killed at the hands of a patient. A doctor assaulted an ICU nurse while he was a patient in Intensive Care. According to the Emergency Nurses Association, between 8 percent and 13 percent of emergency department nurses are victims of physical violence each week.

While a number of states have considered or are currently considering increasing the penalty for assaulting a nurse, support for these measures have been limited. Similar bills failed in both North Carolina and Vermont; Virginia simply punted the proposal to the state crime commission. Ohio is still considering a change in the law.

The New York Nurses Association and Emergency Nurses Association both applaud passage of the legislation. However, they note that the new law is just part of the solution. Nurses also need training in communication and de-escalation techniques; they need proper equipment (including panic buttons and silent alarms) as well.

What do you think of the new law? Is your gut reaction, “About time!” or “What good will that do?” Discuss!

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Jennifer Fink, RN, BSN

Jennifer is a professional freelance writer with over eight years experience as a hospital nurse. She has clinical experience in adult health, including med-surg, geriatrics and transplant; she also has a particular interest in women’s health and cancer care. Jennifer has written a variety of health and parenting articles for national publications.

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26 Responses to Hurting a nurse is a felony

  1. carie

    Good! Im a nurse and glad 2 hear this!

  2. Scott Hale R.N.

    It’s about time! I spend a great deal of time treating co-workers for injuries resulting from assalts by the people we take care of. Unfortunately, administration doesn’t want to hear this or provide appropriate safeguards for nurses…and then they wonder why nurses are out on sick leave or they find another job. WE’RE TIRED OF BEING VICTIMS!

  3. pat ring

    This is great! I am a nurse on a psych unit and because our patients are “mentally Ill” they believe they can hit you and not get arrested!!! I hope this law comes to MD!

  4. Alaiyo Taylor

    It is about time!

  5. Candy Asman, RN

    I have worked in many areas, including medical and psychiatric/addictions nursing. In my 20+ years as a Nurse I have labored in the vineyard of acute Psychiatric E. R. and Forensic Psychiatric evaluation unit. I wish I could say my interpersonal skills and therapeutic skills set have kept me from being assaulted. More important, has been I believe, my respect for the individual who may be coping with alterations in thought, hearing “voices” often command hallucinations, struggling with episodic behavioral manifestations of psychiatric illness. I think years of intensive, ongoing staff development in “Managing the Aggressive patient” didactic and in vivo while working with my colleagues as a team and choosing to work in these areas knowing I am at risk have been the best prophylaxis, I know some may think making assaulting a Nurse a felony will be a deterrent-perhaps this is so. But it may also punish one on no medication, floridly psychotic and reacting to internal stimuli so powerful that sound real and as if emanating from outside oneself…it is a fine line, a “slippery slope” in my opinion. I have worked in this field for so long and we have yet to find a way to protect health care workers. Health care workers must feel and know that they are valued and that being injured is not in their position description but a rare occurrence that will yield consequences, even legal consequences. Moral dilemmas are called dilemmas precisely for this reason. I hope we will find higher staff to patient ratios, intensive. comprehensive staff training and ways to deal with medication side effects to facilitate patient compliance in medication management.

  6. acey

    Law is not my strong suit. If a nurse is assaulted, are the charges automatic like domestic violence eg you can’t say you don’t want to pursue the issue?

    I wonder what the impact will be for non-unionized nurses if we opt to go forward with pressing charges? Dollars to doughnuts a non-union nurse will choose to let the matter drop at the risk of being seen as a problem employee – it’s bad customer service to sue the patients, you know.

  7. Edith

    When will all the other states follow in this… ????

  8. Pat

    It’s about time. You can debate all day about whether or not a person is responsible for their mental status, but on the street, they are. Until proven mentally ill. How hard is it to prove that someone is mentally ill if they are admitted for that purpose? And if someone is NOT mentally ill, or with an altered mental status, and they assault a health care professional, then they need to be held responsible. Even when people are found to be mentally ill, and they assault someone in public, they are then kept away from society until they are deemed safe. There is no profession worth dying for and since I am also a pacifist who is against most wars, I am also against being assaulted. Besides, in my experience, the only assaults I’ve ever needed to worry about came from those who knew exactly what they were doing but have just gotten away with too much, for too long. It’s high time for this law.

  9. renee

    I have been a nurse almost 20 yrs. It’s about time the public realized the work place violence we deal with on a daily basis; trying to keep patients safety our focus and a lot of times sacrificing our own. I have been sent to my own emergency room multiple times for injuries recieved from patients. There is a difference between combativeness from dementia or drug reaction and just plain beligerent behavior and it’s time our legistators understand this and realize our job is just as hazardous as police officers, firemen and EMS.

  10. Christine michalecki

    I am so glad to here this! SeverAl years ago, I had the audacity to ask a new Dad to kindly have his 14 relatives step outside the recovery room so that I could assess his wife. She had delivered just one hour prior, was a grand multip with a greater chance for pph. He angrily pushed me out of the way and swiped at me with an open hand! This all took place behind a drawn curtain so I really didn’t have much recourse, because sadly at that time my nurse manager was all about the patient, and patient satisfaction. You have no idea how angry I was. No, he didn’t hurt me, but he did HIT me. The director of security told me that unless I had an actual injury, there could be no assault charges filed. Sadly, I continued to work for an institution that didn’t support it’s nurses. This was at a hospital in NY in 2002!

  11. Shalimar

    GREAT but when will other states follow suit??? WV seems to lag in all areas as I have been asulted on the job and have to prove myself innocent and that I had not provoked the ‘patient’. If I were a cop or a lawyer, doctor, etc the patient would be jailed and not trying to attack others.

  12. candace zaccaro-munoz

    I had a police officer in Washington State inform me of this law while up there on a travel contract. I thought it was a great idea then and hope to see more states come on board. It is amazing the amount of abuse nurses undergo at the hand of their patients and/or their families. It is about time we practice what we preach. We evaluate patients for abuse on admission, so why not have the same concerns for ourselves as caregivers.

  13. susan

    Yes this law is way over due, but as stated previously by someone else: WE NEED nurse, pt, ratio laws across the country, not just in CA! When wil nurses ever really start to fight an statnd up for themselves??

  14. ken

    this is a typical failure of our legislators. why would they only protect nurses. doctors, techs, transporters,clerks are required to treat patients and violence shouldn’t be tolerated against any of them.

    • maxine

      First of all, your language does not reflect remorse. 2nd of all, being a 17 year old why are you drinking… that also is against NYS law. Third of all, you state that you just bumped the nurse which resulted in the nurse obtaining a fractured arm. My dear, you more than “bumped” her to have such an injury occur. You probably were still so drunk that you were still out of control yourself. Live lesson is that no matter what, you are responsible for yourself and your actions. A person who drives drunk and kills someone is still responsible for killing someone just as you were still drunk when you struck the nurse… you struck the nurse… the person who was trying to help you…. your responsibility. Maybe this is a lesson that you can share with other classmates and underclassmen.. make it a positive

  15. Patrick

    I just got fucked over by this law. I’m a 17 year old student from New Hampshire attending school in upstate New York. This past week I passed out after drinking too much at a friends dorm room. I was brought to the hospital. I woke up in the main room of the ER. There were three cops in the same room, multiple nurses, and other patients. Scared, nervous, ashamed, and drunk I asked what happened. A sweet nurse explained what had happened. The man next to me began talking rudely to the cops. They said that we were all going to end up in jail. Scared he ran. I told the staff I wanted to leave. Then I climbed out of bed and headed for the door. While climbing out of bed I bumped the nurse. She fell and broke her arm. Then I was arrested. I felt terrible that I had hurt someone who was trying to help me. I was released on probation the next day. I immediately went to the hospital with a card to apologize, wish her a quick recovery, and offer to pay any medical bills.

    I’m now multiple felonies for assault on a nurse and intimidating a witness.

    • Granny RN RN

      Well, ain’t that just Pitiful? You Chose to drink in a State where the Law says that you are NOT ‘all grown up’ and now have to face the Consequences of your actions. Cry us a River! You are responsible for knowing the drinking laws in whatever State or Locality you choose to imbibe.
      You will probably get Probation and Community Service if you are a First Offender and if you are not tried as an Adult. Take the bitter pill and be thankful. You did not suffer any Physical Injury like the nurse who got the broken arm and lost time at work.
      You now have a choice: keep whining about how the Law ‘screwed you’, or Man Up and act like the Big Boy you were trying to be when you got wasted by drinking illegally.

  16. Tammy Young, Nurse

    This is great!! I’m a nurse in a state prison institution, very good to know!!!

  17. Laura

    Patrick – this law wasn’t meant to apply to people like you and it is unfortunate that it has been. It WAS meant to target patients who target nurses and other medical staff while they’re just trying to do their job. And I HATE it when people say, “Oh, if you’d just been nicer, he wouldn’t have been so upset.” Bullshit. I’m as nice as I can be to all patients, but I don’t come to work expecting to be assaulted. If I assault the cashier at McDonalds because she is rude to me, or I can’t get what I want from them – I’m going to jail. Nurses and other hospital staff should be no different!

    • Granny RN RN

      Why do you feel the need to APOLOGIZE to yet another spoiled brat who wants to blame everyone and everything else for HIS mess?
      Nobody MADE ‘Patrick’ get drunk in a State where he is underage. Nobody MADE him knock down a fellow nurse who was trying to take care of him and the others and cause physical injury which no doubt resulted in lost work time and wages as well as pain and suffering.
      ‘Patrick’ made an Adult CHOICE. He now has to ACT like an Adult and face the Consequences. He is LUCKY that he did not DIE of Alcohol Poisoning.
      He will most likely get off as a Juvenile whose record will be expunged in a year or so and will be very UNlikely to ‘serve time.’ He sounds exactly like too many kids whose parents let them do whatever suited them and bailed them out to make it all ‘go away’.
      Most of us are tired of cleaning up their little messes! If it takes a Law to make nurses safe in the workplace, so be it!

  18. jas

    I’ve been a RN for close to 20 yrs also. During that time, I’ve been hit, bit, scratched and kicked. Most of these instances were from confused patients but some were from petitioned patients who knew exactly what they were doing. The thing I did wrong? I wouldn’t let them leave!

    The worse episode was when I was kicked in the sternum by a patient and had my left intercostal muscles pulled from the ribs, lifetime injury! The security guards did ask if I wanted to press charges. In this instance, the patient was schizo and really didn’t know what he was doing. My Dr. has told me he’s treating another RN with the same injuries.

    So, if the patient knows what he’s doing, press charges, if patient is incapacitated, don’t. Drunk patients would fall in first category

    • notme

      Disagree. “Incapacitated” or not, press charges.
      Same as a cop.
      You don’t go to work to get punched and abused.
      There are no excuses.

  19. Loretta

    I work in LTC so most of the time when my residents do attack it is because of their mental state, dementia is a son of a btch. However, FAMILY MEMBERS, need I say more. They treat us like the disease is our fault. Or how bout when they try to take care of mom/dad at home, but before the realize they are doing a horrible job, the bed sores are all over their body and they are malnourished. So to the hospital they go. Then from the hospital they come to me and because my crew and I can’t heal mom/dad within that week, we become incompitent and don’t know what the hell we are doing. So they think they got the right to get up in my face and slander my name.

  20. Margaret

    This law is exactly for someone like Patrick. He didn’t “accidently” bump into one of those 3 officers, did he? This law will serve as a deterrent and treatment enforcer. Court mandated substance abuse treatment seems online for this 17 yo intoxicated young man. For those of you who feel that psychotic patients won’t benefit from this law, consider Kendra’s Law-this is a great segway

    • Granny RN RN

      Unfortunately it DOES take legal recourse to take care of nurses and other employees these days. We all know that the hospitals do not want ‘bad publicity’ and WILL fire a nurse for reporting anything unpleasant, unethical or even illegal.
      We have at least 2 Generations of kids who think that they can always squirm out of trouble because ‘the law screwed me over’.
      Most of us are tired of being abused, mentally or physically, in the workplace no matter WHO is doing it!

  21. ruralnurse RN

    In Western Australia, assaulting a nurse carries a 3 year jail term. No iffs or buts. Here, a nurse is a public officer.
    A verbal assault will earn you a 1 year stay in the big house.
    If you assault a nurse with a weapon other than your fists, you will get the age pension in jail.
    This law also applies to assaulting police and ambos.