On March 8, lawmakers in the Wisconsin State Senate approved a bill making threats of violence against a health care worker a Class H felony in Wisconsin. This action comes following approval of this legislation in the state Assembly. In addition to creating an explicit felony for threats of violence against a health care worker, the bill also expands an existing health care worker battery statute to acts and threats committed towards a family member of a health care worker as well as staff and providers in additional settings, like clinics and nursing homes.
“When health care providers choose to leave the profession for the safety of themselves or their families, we all lose,” said WHA President and CEO Eric Borgerding in a press release
following the Senate’s action on Tuesday. “Our state, like all others across the nation, needs to reverse the troubling trend of increased violence and threats towards health care workers. Today’s action will help reverse this trend in Wisconsin.”
In February, UW Health Chief Nursing Executive Rudy Jackson, DNP, MHA, RN, CENP, and Gundersen Health System Clinical Manager in Medical Oncology Clark Draxler, RN, joined WHA Senior Vice President Workforce and Clinical Practice Ann Zenk to testify in Assembly and Senate public hearings in support of the legislation. Jackson and Draxler both gave firsthand accounts of violence and threats they either personally experienced or witnessed during their careers in health care.
“This bill is necessary even though UW Health goes to great lengths to protect employees from violence in the workplace,” said Jackson. “I believe Assembly Bill 960 will have the intended effect and stem the tide of violence and threats of violence perpetrated against health care workers providing care in health care facilities. I base this assertion on my experience in Texas. In 2013, Texas enacted legislation with a similar goal and after it went into effect, we saw a decrease in violence in my former emergency department. I assume that decrease was due to the media attention the new law garnered and our efforts to inform patients of the enhanced criminal penalties through signage placed strategically around the ED.”
Before the Assembly committee, Draxler talked about the real impact violence and threats are having on the health care workforce. “This legislation is really about health care workers—RNs, CNAs, MDs—the dietary aide who is too scared to deliver a meal to a patient's room. These are the professionals who are leaving health care because threats and abuse cannot be washed off with soap and water as you leave the patient room,” said Draxler during his first time testifying before a committee of the state Legislature.
Borgerding commended the bipartisan support of this legislation, which was led by Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) and Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu (R-Oostburg). “Republicans and Democrats agreed on a very important message today—threatening a health care worker in Wisconsin is unacceptable,” said WHA President and CEO Eric Borgerding. “Our state’s hospitals and their thousands of staff thank the legislative leaders for championing this proposal and appreciate support from lawmakers of both parties in the Assembly and Senate.”
Assembly Bill 960 still needs approval by Gov. Evers before becoming law. Following this action, WHA will work alongside the Department of Justice to develop model signage highlighting the law that hospitals may use in their facilities as they educate patients, visitors, providers and staff about the newly established penalties for committing battery or threatening health care workers or their families. WHA will communicate broadly to members when this model language becomes available.