Violence Against Healthcare Workers – A REAL Problem

By January 3, 2016Nursing

In my former life, I was an ER Nurse.

Not the primary reason, but one of the reasons I stopped doing it was the constant possibility that I would be assaulted.  It happened several times during my ER career.  And nobody was EVER arrested.  EVER.

During one incident, I thought I was going to be arrested for insisting that the police officers enforce the law and take the patient to jail. The patient was a ‘suicide risk’.  Suicide watch is done in jail all the time.

Also, she only became a suicide risk after she punched me in the face. Prior to that, she was an upper respiratory infection who was being discharged. They decided that writing her a ticket for ‘Mental Health Court’ was enough. And then I had to care for her for five hours while we waited for mental health to clear her.

I beg to differ.hurt2

  •  If you are alert and oriented and you assault a Healthcare worker (HCW) you should get the same punishment you would get if you walked up to a police officer and punched him in the face. I can guarantee you that you would still go to jail whether you felt bad about yourself that day or not.
  • If you are drunk or high and assault a HCW, you should get the same punishment you would get if you were drunk or high and assaulted a police officer.
  • If you have a behavioral disorder, you are alert and oriented and you assault a HCW, you should get the same punishment you would get if you randomly assaulted a police officer.
  • If you have dementia, are disoriented for a medical reason, or are coming out of anesthesia and you assault a HCW, it happens.
  • If we filled you full of versed and fentanyl and you reach out and whack one of us, it happens.
  • If you are acutely psychotic and hit one of us while you are hallucinating, it happens.That doesn’t mean you get a break for having a mental health diagnosis while you are NOT acutely psychotic.


Your stories, randomly picked off ONE THREAD on Show Me Your Stethoscope.  You were comforting the writer of the first story:


  • Just got punched so hard by my patient without warning on my Right eye breaking my glasses then another punch on my face before I could get away.Patient was talking pleasantly and I tried to fix her heart monitor then Whammm? and patient just said I’m sorry, I have a behavioral problem. This is just one of the many challenges in our profession.???? I even asked the supervisor if the hospital will pay for my glasses. She said ” I doubt it.”
  • I could tell you so many stories from the twelve years I worked in the ER. It ranges from having my boobs grabbed, hands stuck between my legs, spit on, having my ponytail pulled… My coworker was knocked out cold by a patient with a rolling metal/steel pole we had our thermometers on (and she then became our patient as we had to C spine her). The doctor had to jump on her attacker’s back to get him down while we were calling 911 from the ER.
  • I had the same thing happen to me as a cna a few years back!!! A little 90 pound lady busted my nose and blacked both my eyes with one very manly punch to the face!!! While I had blood streaming out of my nose my nursing supervisor told me that I looked to be ok and could go back to work!!! So I worked out the rest of my shift not able to breath and was told that I would have to come back in the next day and file a claim and when I did I was told it had to be filed within the first two hours of injury therefore they wouldn’t be filing nor paying for any of my medical expenses!!! I ended up with permanent eye damage and now wear glasses because of it!!!
  • I got a colossal head butt that flipped my head back like a Pez dispenser. 2mos later still having arm pain and numbness in my hand. Again, claimed she had no control and I actually know better. I didn’t hesitate to get mad.
  • Similar happened years ago in ED…Pt had tried to hang himself and was escorted in to our ED. Hooked him up to the monitor, etc., and told him I wanted to lockup his personal belongings for safe keeping. As I was counting his money, in front of him, he cold-cocked me. Split lip required stitches. To this day, I wonder if I would’ve added more to the total money count if he would’ve been satisfied?!?

Perhaps since all of the states cannot protect us, a federal law is required? This is absolutely unbelievable.  If we worked in a store, a nightclub, or a factory, our assailants would immediately be arrested.  Why are we punching bags for our patients? Does the public know how we are treated? How can we make them aware?hurt3

Would you like to become involved with the necessary legislation in your state? Let me know. 

A fair outcome:

  • My husband is an ER nurse, last year he was kicked in the head by a female pt . The nurse across the hall heard it connect. He did file charges, and she went to jail.


There should be way more fair outcomes.


Do you have a story you would like to share about violence against HCW? Please comment here, or send mail to










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Author Janie Garner

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Join the discussion 6 Comments

  • I will Not put up with being Abused while on the job. If it’s against the law for people to assault others while not at work then as Medical personnel we should have those same rights!

  • Cj Carver says:

    I was assaulted by a coworker who threw a bloody instrument at me.

  • JEAN says:

    What about lateral violence among health care workers?
    Nurses are mean sometimes and other nurses have to pay. I think that is why I had cancer. Continuous stress.

  • It’s a 3rd degree felon in Texas. The CNO of the hospital I used to work was instrumental to lobbying for this.

  • The Emergency Nurses Association has made this a priority for the past few years. They have been successful in getting laws passed in several states, including Texas and California (although Gov Brown vetoed the law in California), and in strengthening laws in other states. The best way to get laws changed or to make sure that existing laws are upheld is for nurses to band together and to let your legislators know you have had enough!! They need to hear your stories. A federal law would encompass all, but is probably not going to be passed anytime soon, as many legislators feel it is a states’ rights issue. Targeting the state level will get something done sooner. The first thing to do is find out whether your state has a law in place, who it covers, and what kind of penalties are in place. Many states have laws that pertain to emergency workers, but not all health care workers. If that describes your state, it may be the place to start – getting that wording changed. That would not require a new bill, only amending the one in place. That’s the easiest fix. Find out who the rep is in your state who is from your district. Contact their local office and ask for an appointment, even if it is with the legislative assistant. Many times they are the better person with whom to speak. If you can’t get an appointment, send them a letter – emails are okay, but they get thousands of those. A letter may get more attention. Tel a few stories – how violence in your workplace has affected you, whether you were injured, how your employer handled it, how law enforcement handled it. Word of caution: You are going to need law enforcement’s help here, so don’t trash them, just state facts. Try to get in to see your local States Attorney or DA. Ask them how you, as health care workers, can ensure better enforcement of the law. If you don’t have a law in your state, ask them to help you in getting a WORKABLE law passed. That’s what ENA did in California and it helped. Make sure you play two cards – the fact that you are a CONSTITUENT and the fact that you are a NURSE. Trust me, they will listen. How to find information? Try googling words like “statute healthcare worker assault” your state name. Or “Your state house of representatives”. In Florida, it is and Federally, it is and Use the tabs at the top of the home page to go to information. Most sites also have sections that suggest how to word requests and how to address legislators. We have enough nurses on SMYS to create massive legislative change in this country. It’s time to get out there and do it!!!

  • Marie says:

    Here is a description of the penalties for assaulting a nurse in New Jersey. Here is the bill in its entirety. It is possible with determination and support from each other to change things for nurses. This is not done on a federal level but rather state by state as the Federal government does not oversee the nursing profession. And I hope that they never do.
    Thank you,

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