25 Investigates: Nurses lobby for safety legislation over workplace violence

BOSTON — New legislation proposed on Beacon Hill would give nurses some protection from the people who attack them, which is a growing problem nationwide.

"Violence against caregivers is rampant," Boston Medical Center Registered Nurse Kathy Stokes said. "As a nurse and as a profession, we should not sit back and let things continue."

Nurses want Massachusetts lawmakers to take action. On Thursday, they testified about a bill that would give healthcare workers some protections against aggressors as attacks on nurses are on the rise.

"At one point I had my back to the patient then next thing I knew she had hit me and knocked me to the ground," nurse Deb Falk said.

As 25 Investigates first reported in January, more than 85 percent of nurses report that they have either been physically or verbally assaulted by patients on the job. That's according to a survey by the Massachusetts Nurses Association.

"I later learned that she had hit me with such force that she had split my bicep," Falk said. "She also slapped me in the face and she hurt my back."

The legislation would allow nurses to keep personal information, like their home address, confidential and would require employers to put safety measures in place to prevent workplace violence in the first place.

"Without legislative action, hospitals and other health care facilities are under no obligation to put the measures in place that will help to mitigate workplace violence," retired nurse Karen Coughlin said during a hearing on Beacon Hill. "That is why we are taking action."

As 25 Investigates found, the uptick in attacks on healthcare workers in Massachusetts may coincide with the opioid epidemic. A recent change in state law requires police officers who encounter someone under the influence of drugs to get them to a medical facility instead of jail.

Nurses say, much like police and other first responders on the front lines they need to be protected too.

"For nearly 20 years, we have seen the situation get worse," Stokes said. "We cannot accept violence as something that is just part of the job."

The nurses say the legislation would require hospitals to create comprehensive and standardized workplace prevention programs.