Recently, while I was working in the ER, I was surprised to see a familiar name pop up on my board. The name was for a nurse who I knew and was working at the time. Yet, she was listed as a patient waiting to be seen by me. I asked my charge nurse why she was in a room and heard “Oh, she was just assaulted by a patient”. When I went to see her, she was fortunately physically fine but clearly shaken. I offered what reassurances and sympathy I could.

What made that situation especially hard for me, and I imagine my colleague as well, was the fact that the perpetrator would not be charged with a felony. That is because, in the state of Maryland, it is only a misdemeanor to assault a health care worker. This status quo is wholly unacceptable and has to change.

Fortunately, our State’s General Assembly has a chance to rectify this. HB 1154, introduced by Delegates Cilliberti and McKay, would make it a second-degree felony to intentionally assault an emergency healthcare worker. I urge the General Assembly to prioritize passing this crucial legislation during the time they have remaining in the current session.

Violence against healthcare workers is not a problem unique to Maryland. Health care is a dangerous field across the country. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, health care workers experienced workplace violence at a rate that was four times higher than other employees in private industry. In fact, the number of workplace violence incidents in the health care industry exceeds almost every other industry combined.

Violence against health care workers may be a national problem but the power to punish is left to individual states. This is where Maryland has room to improve. Currently, 32 states consider it a felony to assault a healthcare worker. Maryland, sadly, is not one of them.

What makes this stance by our state so baffling is that it is not uniform. Anyone who has gotten on a bus in Baltimore City recently will likely have noticed that every bus has a sticker on the window warning passengers that it is a felony to assault a bus driver. While I wholeheartedly agree with prosecuting those who attack transit workers, I do wonder why those who willfully assault a healthcare worker do not face the same charges.

It is time that this changes. HB 1154 would elevate assaults against healthcare workers to the felony that it should be. This bill enjoys the support of the Maryland Chapter of the American College of Emergency Physicians, representing more than 650 emergency medicine physicians in our state.

Currently, it is being considered in the Judiciary committee. As the legislative session enters its final weeks, I hope that this legislation does not stall there and makes its way to the

Governor’s desk. Yet, this bill has been introduced in prior sessions but ultimately failed to move out of committee. I hope this session will be different.

My colleagues and I in emergency rooms across the state have spent the last two years working through the worst pandemic in recent history. We, just like every other worker in this state, have a right to feel safe at work. Similarly, we should have a right to fully prosecute those who intentionally harm us while we engage in lifesaving work. I want to thank Delegates Cilliberti and McKay for highlighting this issue and introducing HB 1154. I urge their colleagues in the General Assembly to pass HB 1154. It is time that the General Assembly takes care of us the way we take care of Marylanders every day.

Gregory Jasani, MD is an emergency medicine physician in Baltimore, MD. He is an alternate councilor with the Maryland Chapter of the American College of Emergency Physicians.

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