ATLANTA — Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, healthcare workers dealt with increased assaults by patients, pushing one Gwinnett County doctor and lawmaker to introduce a bill to protect them.
It’s illegal to commit assault anybody, but there are specific laws against assaulting police officers. This bill would similarly broaden the law making it a crime to commit violence against healthcare workers.
"The patient lunged toward me, pulling my hair, twisting my hair tightly between her fingers, where no one was able to get me free," a longtime hospital worker told a Senate committee in 2021.
The committee was examining violence in medical workplaces.
"It has been very much underreported," Deb Bailey of the Northeast Georgia Health System also testified.
Bailey said healthcare workers increasingly became targets as the COVID-19 pandemic grew.
"Covid has certainly exacerbated what we're seeing in the hospital environment particularly, with the violence against health care workers," Bailey said.
The reason, she said, was often sheer frustration with the health scare and the shortage of available help as the number of patients grew.
State Rep. Michelle Au’s bill would add a felony statute for assault of any healthcare worker in any clinical setting – while perhaps helping solve another healthcare problem.
"Already in a high stress environment, we are already having a lot more burnout and people leaving our profession at a time when we are already vastly understaffed when it comes to health care workers," said Au (D-Johns Creek), an anesthesiologist.
Although the law currently singles out protecting health workers in emergency settings, Au's bill would extend that to other healthcare settings.
Au expects to have the backing of Republicans as her bill takes root in this year’s legislative session.