On June 14, 2017, Elise Wilson was working at the Harrington Hospital in Southbridge, Massachusetts, when she was savagely attacked by a knife-wielding patient. Wilson, a nurse, was treated for her injuries at the hospital but then had to be airlifted to the UMass Medical Center in Worcester for more extensive treatment. She has been a nurse for 35 years.
This incident, which underscores the risk that workers in health care facilities face on a daily basis, has now caught the attention of legislators. Senate Bill 1374, “An act requiring health care employers to develop and implement programs to prevent workplace violence,” was passed favorably by the Joint Committee of Public Safety and Homeland Security on July 19, 2017, and is now on its way to the Ways and Means Committee.
Popularly known as “Elise’s Law,” this bill appears to be on a fast track to passage, especially given that 36 legislators have endorsed the original bill. Nurses in health care facilities face a greater risk of workplace injury due to violence than police officers (according to findings by the Massachusetts Nurses Association). As such, it would seem that legislation to protect workers is long overdue.
If passed, health care employers with five or more employees would be subject to the following:
- Performance of an annual risk assessment.
- Required development and implementation of a plan to minimize the danger of violence based on findings.
- Required designation of a senior manager responsible for program implementation.
The details are promulgated by a regulatory agency—in this case it is the commissioner of labor. The bill has specific reporting requirements, and violators face fines of up to $2,000.
For the business owner, it is important to consider the definition of “health care facility” that is outlined in the bill, which include the following:
- Convalescent or nursing home
- Charitable home for the aged
- Community health agency
- Other provider of health care services licensed, or subject to licensing by, or operated by the department of public health
- Alcohol treatment facilities (Section 3, Chapter 111B)
- Any facility which is licensed or subject to licensing by the department of mental health
- Residential or day care services (Section 15, Chapter 19B)
- Mental health (Section 1, Chapter 123)
- Soldiers homes in Holyoke and Chelsea
- Any facility set for in Section 1, Chapter 19 or Section 1, Section 19B
Also, while it is clear that the attack on Elise Wilson would qualify as “workplace violence” by any description, employers should take note that the bill’s definition, “any act or threat of physical violence, harassment, intimidation, or other threatening disruptive behavior that occurs at the work site ranging from threats and verbal abuse to physical assaults and homicide,” broadens the scope considerably.
While this bill is not yet law, it could very well be passed in the current legislative session. Those in the health care community should stay tuned.