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Whitmer signs specific criminal penalties for assaulting health care workers into law

A bipartisan package of bills in Michigan signed by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer at Sparrow Hospital in Lansing, creates specified criminal penalties for assaulting health care workers.

By Anna Liz Nichols, Michigan Advance - December 06, 2023
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Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer addresses the crowd during inauguration ceremonies, Jan. 1, 2023, outside the state Capitol in Lansing, Mich.
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer addresses the crowd during inauguration ceremonies, Jan. 1, 2023, outside the state Capitol in Lansing, Mich. (AP Photo/Al Goldis, File)

Violence against health care workers has been on the rise in the U.S. for years, with many individuals in the field marking a particular uptick during the COVID-19 pandemic.

But a bipartisan package of bills in Michigan signed by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer at Sparrow Hospital in Lansing, creates specified criminal penalties for assaulting health care workers.

The bills center on extending dignity to health care workers, many of which carried Michigan to safety during the COVID-19 pandemic, Whitmer said in a statement Wednesday.

“We owe a debt of gratitude to the doctors, nurses, and health care workers who routinely step up to protect our communities and save lives,” Whitmer said. “Unfortunately, health care workers face rising rates of bullying, viciousness, and violence. These bills will protect health care workers and help Michiganders in the industry, as well as those who are considering a career in health care, know that the state of Michigan has their back.”

The bills signed, HB 4520 and 4521, assign higher penalties for assault, whether it be with a weapon or without, if the victim is a health care worker on the job at the time.

State Rep. Mike Mueller (R-Linden), who sponsored HB 4520, said he was “proud” to see the bipartisan package come to fruition after working on it for more than a year.

“Michigan’s dedicated health care professionals continue to go above and beyond to safeguard the health of our residents, despite growing challenges and intimidation,” Mueller said in a statement. “This new law is a step toward providing a secure working environment for hospital personnel, discouraging acts of violence, and ensuring that anyone who targets them with violence is held responsible.”

In June, members of the health care workforce in Michigan in support of the bills told lawmakers in committee that they and their colleagues have been choked, received concussions, experienced internal bleeding and more while at work and the anxiety of facing additional violence is prevalent.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor, in 2018, before the pandemic, health care workers accounted for 73 percent of all nonfatal workplace injuries and illnesses attributed to violence and has been increasing for nearly a decade.

That was an unacceptable situation, according to a statement from state Rep. Kelly Breen (D-Novi), sponsor of HB 4521.

“It’s gratifying to see work that started a decade ago finally come to fruition,” said Breen. “With the recent rise in assaults against doctors, nurses, and other health care workers and volunteers, we need stronger deterrents. Alongside de-escalation tactics, increased fines and posted signage will make people think twice before resorting to violence. It’s the least we can do for the frontline heroes that saw us through the pandemic.”

Under the bills, assault of a health care worker on the job could be punishable by up to 93 days in jail and a $1000 fine, aggravated assault of a health care worker on the job could be punishable by up to one year in jail and a $2000 fine and assault with a deadly weapon of a health care worker on the job will carry up to four years in prison and a $4000 fine. In all these scenarios the fine is now double the maximum set for non-health care related incidents.

Acts of violence, verbal and at times physical, are becoming more prevalent in Michigan and extend past those in the professional fields down to volunteers, Brian Peters, CEO of Michigan Health & Hospital Association said in a statement Wednesday.

“As these rates have increased over recent years, the MHA and our member hospitals and health systems thank the Michigan Legislature for passing and Gov. Whitmer for signing House Bills 4520 and 4521 to further protect caregivers in our hospitals,” Peters said. “Health care workers provide care to anyone who enters a hospital and the increased penalties for assault against a healthcare worker demonstrates these crimes are taken extremely seriously by hospital administrators, lawmakers and law enforcement.”


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