ATLANTA – A state Senate study committee asked the General Assembly Monday to consider stiffening penalties for violent attacks on Georgia health-care workers.
But new legislation addressing the issue is unlikely because criminal justice experts believe existing law already covers violence in the health-care workplace, said Sen. Kay Kirkpatrick, R-Marietta, the study committee’s chairman and an orthopedic surgeon.
“There are already penalties in place for aggravated assault and aggravated battery,” she said. “I can’t promise legislation is going to happen or would pass if it’s proposed.”
The Senate formed the study committee amid a nationwide increase in violence against health-care workers since the coronavirus pandemic struck the country early last year.
A study the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration released in April 2020 found that health-care workers account for about 50% of all victims of workplace violence.
The study committee’s final report that Kirkpatrick presented Monday encouraged hospital officials to train health-care workers and other hospital staff in how to deescalate potentially violent confrontations and how to defend themselves if it becomes necessary.
But Dr. Mohak Davé, an emergency room physician with Northeast Georgia Health Systems and a member of the study committee, said the report didn’t go far enough.
While current state law addresses attacks on health-care workers in emergency settings, he said there is no protection on the books for workers in other areas of hospitals.
“This is not just an emergency-room problem,” he said.
“All of our health-care workers should be protected,” added Kelsey Reed, a nurse practitioner with Phoebe Primary Care in Albany who is also on the study committee.
Davé proposed amending the committee’s report to suggest the legislature consider increasing penalties for attacks on health-care workers, and the panel approved the change unanimously.
The committee’s final report will head to the full Senate in time for the 2022 General Assembly session that begins next month.