Thankful for new law that protects NC health care workers

When you go to a hospital, as a patient or as a visitor, you expect to be in a safe environment. The people who work there should have the same expectation.

On Tuesday, a new law takes effect in North Carolina that will offer another level of protection to hospital workers. We believe it is a law that deserves to be recognized as an important improvement in healthcare safety in North Carolina.

House Bill 560, signed into law by Gov. Pat McCrory in June, makes it a felony to assault any hospital worker or licensed provider on hospital property. Previously, this level of protection applied only to physicians, physician assistants and nurses in the emergency department.

Unfortunately, violence in hospitals has become a major problem nationwide, despite increased investment by hospitals in security staff and equipment. Aside from the obvious direct impact of violence, there are dangerous consequences in a hospital where these incidents can disrupt, delay, or prevent vital patient care.

There has been concern among those in the mental health community that this law unfairly targets the mentally ill. Let us be clear: that is not the goal or the outcome. This legislation specifically considered the mentally ill and did not change the standard mental capacity test. All of the elements of criminal responsibility must exist for someone to be convicted of a crime; therefore, if one is mentally incapacitated, he cannot be held criminally responsible.

This bill is intended to allow hospital staff to do their jobs without fear. It sends a clear message to criminals and even to family members that hospitals are not the place for violence or for tempers to get out of control, and that North Carolina is serious about protecting the people who work there as well as the patients who place their trust in hospital staff.

Thank you to the sponsors of this bill: Reps. Josh Dobson (R-Avery, McDowell, Mitchell), Sarah Stevens (R-Surry, Wilkes), Gale Adcock (D-Wake) and Sen. Buck Newton (R-Johnston, Nash, Wilson). This new law is much needed and much appreciated by those who work in hospital settings throughout the entire state.

Mary Graff is president of the North Carolina Nurses Association. Bill Pully is president of the North Carolina Hospital Association