TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Senate Assistant Majority Leader John A. Girgenti that would upgrade the offense of assaulting a nurse or other healthcare professional to aggravated assault was today unanimously passed by the Senate.
“While state law protects individuals holding certain occupations that are inherently ‘high risk’ and have the potential for violence as aggravated assault, violence against an on-duty nurse or healthcare professional only constitutes simple assault,” said Senator Girgenti, Chairman of the Senate Law & Public Safety Committee, D-Passaic and Bergen. “Upgrading penalties for assaulting healthcare professionals will send a clear message that we are serious about protecting the safety of the men and women who spend their time caring for the needs of others.”
The bill, S-911, would upgrade the offense for any individual who assaults a nurse or other healthcare professional, while in the performance of his or her official duties, from a simple assault to aggravated assault. If the nurse or healthcare professional suffers bodily injury as a result of the assault, it will be classified as a third degree crime; otherwise it will be a fourth degree crime. A crime of the third degree is punishable by a term of imprisonment of three to five years, a fine up to $15,000, or both. A crime of the fourth degree is punishable by a term of imprisonment for not more than 18 months, a fine up to $10,000, or both.
“Emergency rooms and psychiatric wards are not the only places where violence against nurses and healthcare workers occur; it occurs in obstetric, recovery and surgical units as well,” said Girgenti.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, more than 400,000 nurses and healthcare professionals are victims of violent crimes in the workplace each year. Twenty-five percent of nurses list physical assault as their top safety concern on the job, according to the American Nurses Association.
Assaults on nurses are classified as a felony in the New York, and other healthcare workers were added to that existing statute in January.
Similar laws also have been enacted in Alabama, Arizona, Illinois, Nevada and New Mexico.
“Our nurses and healthcare workers provide vital life saving services for us, and we owe it to them to ensure that those who seek to do them harm are punished severely,” said Girgenti.
The bill now heads to the General Assembly for consideration.