MADISON (WKOW) -- A majority of health care workers in Wisconsin believe their safety is at risk because of workplace violence.
The Wisconsin Nurses Association says 65% of registered nurses have experienced or witnessed workplace violence according to their latest study conducted in 2017. A majority of those surveyed said 52% of incidents were verbal assault, 34% reported physical assault and 13% reported sexual assault.
"I think that number is low, it happens every day," said Megan LeClair-Netzel, Secretary of the Wisconsin Nurses Association.
“We hear about nurses who have experienced significant injuries, including a nurse who was hit in the head by a patient with a light and has since been unable to return to work for over four years," she added.
LeClair-Netzel first started her career as a registered nurse at UW-Madison hospital working in the ICU. Now, as secretary of WNA and currently working at UW-Health, she's advocating for stiffer punishments for those who cause harm to hospital staff.
A bipartisan bill at the state capitol would hold individuals responsible when they harm any health care provider working at a hospital. It would punish someone with a Class H felony, under current law people only face these charges if they hurt emergency room staff, EMS personnel or an ambulance driver.
“It can be very traumatic and it is anxiety-provoking for staff, healthcare workers, to not know whether or not they're really going to have a safe shift,” said LeClair-Netzel.
The bill would not charge someone who has a brain injury/disorder, developmental disability or serious mental health illness.
LeClair-Netzel said the legislation is a good first step towards tackling the problem.
"It’s imperative that we increase awareness about the problem."
The proposal passed the Senate in November and now awaits a vote in the Assembly.
WORKPLACE VIOLENCE PREVENTION:
National statistics show physical and verbal abuse against health care workers are on the rise. In 2016, the Government Accountability Office conducted a survey showing violence against health care workers are 12 times higher than the rest of the workforce.
U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) is working on legislation that would implement violence prevention plans to protect employees in health care and social service employees.
Her proposal would require OSHA to write and implement prevention plans, currently, OSHA does not provide standards for health care professionals to follow if a violent incident occurs.
Baldwin said too often nurses and other health care providers are put in scary situations trying to deescalate a situation.
“Workplaces should be safe and in events where it's not, we need to have every employer thinking about and putting plans in place and intervene,” she said.
The Workplace Violence Prevention in Health Care and Social Services Act is already gaining momentum.
It passed the House of Representatives two weeks ago and heads to the Senate for final consideration.