Family, Colleagues of Nurse Elise Wilson Who Was Attacked at Harrington Hospital to Testify Wednesday, July 19 in Favor of ‘Elise’s Law’ to Prevent Health Care Workplace Violence
Rate of violence four times greater in health care than private industry on average; bill requires employers to implement violence prevention programs
BOSTON, Mass. – The husband and colleagues of Elise Wilson, a registered nurse who was stabbed while working in the emergency department at Harrington Hospital last month, will testify at a State House hearing on Wednesday, July 19 in favor of “Elise’s Law,” legislation proposed by the Massachusetts Nurses Association that requires health care employers to develop and implement individualized workplace violence prevention plans.
Wilson, 65, was assisting a patient on the morning of June 14 at the Southbridge hospital when, police say, he took out a knife and stabbed Wilson, causing her severe injuries that required surgery. Wilson is still recovering from the attack and unable to attend the hearing for “Elise’s Law,” but her husband Clifton Wilson and several of her nurse colleagues will be in attendance to read Wilson’s personal testimony and support the legislation.
RN Elise Wilson recovering from her wounds, grateful her ventilator and feeding tube had been removed.
“The attack against Elise was vicious and left her fighting for her life,” said RN Tracy DiGregorio, who was working in the ER at the time of the assault. “Unfortunately, I cannot say violence against nurses is rare. Nurses and other health care professionals are assaulted every single day at hospitals throughout Massachusetts. We should pass ‘Elise’s Law’ right away to help stop the violence.”
What: A hearing before the Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security on An Act Requiring Health Care Employers to Develop and Implement Programs to Prevent Workplace Violence (S. 1374), filed by former Sen. James Timilty, D-Walpole. An identical bill was filed in the House (H.1007) by Rep. Denise Garlick, D-Needham.
When: Wednesday, July 19 at 10 a.m.
Where: Room A2, State House, Boston MA
Why: Learn more about the problem directly from Massachusetts nurses: MNA Workplace Violence Survey Fact Sheet
Clifton Wilson, Elise’s husband, said that his wife has worked as a nurse in the emergency department for 35 years and has had violent encounters with patients in the past. On the morning of June 14, that history was on his mind.
“I kissed her goodbye that morning, as I did every day,” Clifton Wilson said. “I told her to have as good a day as she could have, as I did every day. Nothing in this world can ever prepare you for getting ‘THE call’ that I got three hours later. ‘THE call’ telling me my wife was stabbed and they’re doing their best to save her.”
Clifton Wilson said he hopes his wife’s attack can help lead to the better protections for health care professionals such as those that would be implemented under “Elise’s Law.” He also congratulated Harrington Hospital for taking steps to prevent violence after the assault, including installing a metal detector.
“Workplace violence prevention must become the highest priority for any facility that employs healthcare workers,” Clifton Wilson said. “It’s utterly horrific and shocking that the mere act of going to work has become dangerous business for the people who take care of us when we are sick. Harrington Hospital has installed metal detectors at ER entrances. People entering are having their bags searched. Nurses and staff will have panic buttons installed on their ID badges. That’s truly what makes this Elise’s Law – not only that Elise was nearly killed on the job, but also that her hospital is putting safeguards in place so that this type of event might be prevented from happening to any other employee there.”
Knives found and left unclaimed at Harrington Hospital in Southbridge after a metal detector was installed on July 6. A detector is also being installed at the Webster campus.
Following the assault against Elise Wilson, Harry Lemieux, vice president and chief information officer at Harrington HealthCare System, told the Worcester Telegram & Gazette last month that he was in support of the violence prevention legislation being proposed and that Harrington Hospital had begun instituting some prevention programs.
“It’s important for health-care organizations to protect their employees who are faced with these increasing incidents,” Lemieux told the newspaper.
Elise’s Law Needed to Prevent Escalating Violence
“Health care professionals are being assaulted at a rate four times greater than those working in other industries,” said Donna Kelly-Williams, RN, president of the Massachusetts Nurses Association. “It is clear the laws we have in place are not enough to stop the violence. A hospital should be a place where patients go to heal and nurses and other health care professionals are able to provide care in a safe environment.”
Nurses are assaulted on the job more than police officers and Corrections officers, with more than 70 percent of hospital emergency department nurses reporting being assaulted during their career. An Act Requiring Health Care Employers to Develop and Implement Programs to Prevent Workplace Violence (S. 1374) will require health care employers to perform an annual safety risk assessment and, based on those findings, develop and implement programs to minimize the danger of workplace violence to employees and patients.
The bill also provides time off for health care workers assaulted on the job to address legal issues (up to seven paid days off per calendar year), allows nurses to use their health care facility address instead of their home address to handle legal issues related to an assault, and requires semiannual reporting of assaults on health care employees to District Attorneys.
Miko Nakagawa is a registered nurse who was assaulted in January 2017 while working in the emergency department at Health Alliance Hospital Leominster.
“An aggressive patient who had already assaulted two other staff members violently shoved me over a stretcher and onto the floor when we were moving him to another room,” Nakagawa said. “The assault left me with a horrible, deep bruise on my arm and a rotator cuff injury. I had surgery and was out of work recovering from my injuries for three months.”
“The culture needs to change in health care,” Nakagawa said. “When violence is so widespread, it endangers not just staff but everyone at the hospital – patients and visitors included. This legislation will go a long way toward changing that culture and preventing violence. The more protection and support health care professionals have, the less violence there will be in health care.”
A recent Massachusetts Nurses Association survey of more than 220 union and non-union nurses found that fear of violence and physical and verbal abuse are widespread in Massachusetts health care facilities. More than 85 percent of nurses have been punched, spit on, groped, kicked or otherwise physically or verbally assaulted. Yet only 19 percent of nurses say their employer was supportive and tried to find solutions after they experienced violence, while 76 percent said existing workplace violence policies are not enforced.
A 2015 report from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) found that between 2012 and 2014 incidents of violence “nearly doubled for nurses and nurse assistants.” Violence against health care workers accounts for nearly as many injuries as in all other industries combined, according to the Occupational Health and Safety Administration.
Top public safety officials have joined the fight to prevent health care violence and endorsed the legislation, including Worcester County District Attorney Joseph Early and Northwestern District Attorney David Sullivan.
“I believe that law enforcement best serves our citizens when we are dedicated to crime prevention,” DA Early said. “To effectively tackle health care violence in Massachusetts, we need to understand the full scope of the problem. This legislation will enable District Attorneys across the Commonwealth to track assaults in health care facilities and to work with nurses, other health care professionals and their advocates to limit violence and reduce harm.”