Lawmakers to push for tougher penalties for assaulting health care workers

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A plan aimed at reducing violence against health care workers will be on the agenda when Minnesota lawmakers return to the Capitol next month.

WCCO reports there's been a seven-fold increase in attacks against the state's health care staff, including those who work in emergency rooms, psychiatric wards, nursing homes, or as 911 responders.

The issue was thrust into the spotlight last month when a rampaging patient at a Maplewood hospital began swinging a metal rod, injuring four nurses. The 68-year-old man fled from St. John's Hospital and died after a struggle with police.

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The Nurse Protection Act proposed by DFL Rep. Joe Atkins of Inver Grove Heights would increase penalties for violent acts when the victim is a health care worker. It would require training for those workers in how to respond to workplace violence.

Atkins tells the Minnesota Daily law enforcement groups and the Minnesota Nurses Association are helping to craft the bill. The Daily spoke with a nurse at the U of M Medical Center Fairview who says she's reconsidering her profession after being attacked by a patient four times.

According to Business Insurance, a majority of states have laws that make penalties tougher when the victim of an assault is a health care worker.

But there's also some skepticism about whether stronger penalties would really protect health care workers.

Good Thunder Republican Tony Cornish will take over as chair of the House Public Safety and Crime Prevention Committee when the Legislature reconvenes. Cornish told the Star Tribune last month he'll give Atkins' bill a hearing.

But Cornish said it's unlikely such a law would have prevented the attack in Maplewood, which was carried out by a patient who was confused and disoriented.

Sue Abderholden of the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Minnesota also expressed doubts, telling the newspaper "“We could end up criminalizing people … who were not really aware of what they were doing.”

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