Bill Would Make It A Felony To Assault Nurses, First Responders

It’s tough being a nurse! Especially when you get punched in the face by a patient. It was a crazy chaotic evening on the ortho/neuro/med surg floor and as usual, I must have had at least 8 patients. I was a 24-year-old new grad barely 6 months out of nursing school.


My “Boxing Champ” patient had some type of dementia, was on a special airbed and had both arms restrained. There was a sign by his bedside that read: take caution when untying patient’s right arm, he likes to punch.


Since I had 8 patients that evening that meant my Nurses Aide had 30. These were the days before patient nurse ratio laws. I had to give my patient his meds through his G-tube and a bath all by myself. Yes, I did read the sign, but I must confess I did not take it “seriously” since my patient seemed to look like a nice helpless little man. He smiled at me when I said: “Hey buddy, how are you doing this evening?”


As I untied his right and left arms, I briefly massaged them, and then turned my back to prep for his bath. His fist was already flying in air as I turned around with a washcloth in my hand and met my right cheekbone. It felt like total knock out equal to that of a heavy weight champion.


I reported the incident to the charge. She sent me to the ER to get an X-ray and some Ice. When I got back to the unit, since there were no broken bones, I finished my shift with an ice pack to my face.


In my 20 years of nursing I have been: bitten, slapped, verbally abused, Indian burned, had my hair pulled, threatened with my life, and had feces flung at me. Some patients were children. Some were mentally unstable. Other than write an incident report, which no body probably even read, I continued to be a nurse and do my job.


However, a Missoula nurse who was slammed against the wall by a large male patient who later only received a citation testified Monday before a legislative committee in support of a bill that would make an assault on nurses and first responders a felony. I applaud her for taking action towards this. I have met several nurses who have been assaulted by patients who suffered debilitating consequences, which caused them to be handicapped, and no longer work.


The House Bill 268, carried by Rep. James O’Hara, R-Fort Benton, would make an assault on a health care provider or emergency responder a felony subject to up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $50,000. Though assaults now could reach the point of a felony, those who testified said that other protections are afforded law enforcement and would help prevent assaults on nurses and increase reporting of what already occurs. Two nurses who were assaulted said patients only received citations.

“Nursing has become the most dangerous profession in Montana, primarily because of violent assaults,” O’Hara said. “This behavior is completely unacceptable. We cannot let violent assaults on health care providers become the new normal.”


Those who spoke in opposition to the bill said nurses are already protected by assault laws and that the bill would open the doors to charge people, who are mentally ill, have dementia or others who could act violently without the same intent of those nurses say the bill is meant to target.


“The answer here is not creating another crime, it’s reporting when a crime has been committed against you,” said SK Rossi, who represents ACLU of Montana.


Nurses have the highest rate of workplace violence injuries over all health care occupations, according to a report from the Department of Labor. Studies estimate only 7-42 percent of assaults in hospitals are reported. The department said it received 2,155 claims for workers’ compensation between 2011 and 2015 that were assault claims.


I do agree that mentally challenged people and children of a certain age sometimes are not in the right frame of mind and should not be prosecuted for a crime. However, I also agree that nurses put themselves in danger on a daily basis and need some type of protection. Let’s not forget our CNA’s, Medical Assistants, and Transport tech’s. They also should be added in the bill along with nurses and first responders.

When people are in pain, angry or scared, they tend to take their aggressions out on their caretakers. Too often those are the bedside nurses and Nurses Aides. I applaud the Missouri nurse for being courageous, setting a boundary and defending her rights! She’s great example of a nurse taking action.