New S.C. bill aims to protect nurses, doctors from workplace violence

Preventing Workplace Violence in Healthcare

HORRY COUNTY, S.C. (WMBF) - The threat of violence at hospitals is a major safety issue healthcare workers and health systems across South Carolina face on a daily basis.

The South Carolina Hospital Association says violence in the workplace has been one of the most talked about issues for at least the past year. Now, S.C. Rep. Wendell Gilliard is hoping to make a change to keep medical professionals safe.

State officials say attacks on nurses and doctors in hospitals have increased across the Palmetto State. In addition, South Carolina is one of only three states without enhanced penalties for violence against healthcare workers.

Gilliard says he plans to file a bill that would create more emergency plans and security protocols to keep doctors and nurses safe in a variety of situations. He is also calling for enhanced penalties for someone who assaults a healthcare worker. Gilliard outlined some of the procedures on larger medical facility campuses, like having a police force on site or nearby to have the ability to apprehend someone on site. Gilliard has held two round table discussions so far to hear the concerns of medical professionals from across the state, and has seen reports of verbal abuse to physical assault.

“I’ve heard things like people bringing knives, nurses being attacked, family members bringing their arguments from their homes to the hospitals. It’s just creating chaos in the emergency room, and whether you’re a nurse, doctor or patient, you should never put them in a position that they should have to worry about their safety,” said Gilliard.

These attacks aren’t uncommon for healthcare workers. Advocacy groups say the number of attacks could also be drastically under-reported.

Bruce Bailey, president and CEO of Tidelands Health, says if we don’t maintain a safe environment for our doctors and nurses, patients’ lives and quality of service could be put in jeopardy.

“We obviously have front and center, the top priority, the safety of our employees. But we also have to protect patients as well. And when you have these type of events happening next door to a heart attack patient, to a child who has a sore throat or an allergy, an asthma attack, it’s tough to provide top level care to those patients while we’re dealing with a violent patient just down the hallway," said Bailey.

Gilliard says there are about 100 hospitals in South Carolina, each with a different response plan and different resources to keep hospital staff safe. At Tidelands Health, hospital leaders have been working relentlessly over the past five to seven years to address workplace violence in healthcare.

“We’ve conducted assessments of all of our facilities, our ambulatory outpatient locations, as well as our emergency rooms to know what we need to do next to make it safer," said Bailey.

The South Carolina Hospital Association is also pushing for steeper penalties for someone who attacks a nurse or doctor.

The pre-filing period for bills for the 2020 legislative session starts next month. Gilliard plans to file the bill at that time.

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