A growing number of Massachusetts nurses say they are fed up with being punched, kicked, and bitten on the job, reports the Boston Globe. With more patients flocking to emergency rooms and ER waiting times growing, the Massachusetts Nurses Association says members are fending off an increasing number of aggressive patients, as well as their frustrated family members. “I’ve had it,” said Sheila Wilson, a registered nurse who has worked in one emergency room for 15 years. She said there were at least three serious assaults by patients on ER staff over the past two months.
Nurses say hospitals have made security guards less conspicuous, to cultivate a more service-oriented setting. They say the trend comes as ERs are seeing more patients likely to act out because of substance abuse or psychiatric problems; these patients will have fewer treatment options after budget cuts at social service agencies. The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics counts only assaults resulting in injuries serious enough to miss one or more days of work; there were 200 such assaults a year reported in Massachusetts hospitals between 2004 and 2006. A 2004 nurses association study found that half of members reported being punched at least once in the previous two years, and more than 25 percent said they had been pinched, scratched, and spit on, or had hands or wrists twisted. The association wants to criminalize assaults on health care workers on duty – similar to a state law that protects ambulance crews, firefighters, and other public employees.