NEW YORK NURSE: September 2010
by Erin Silk
Gov. David Paterson signed the Violence Against Nurses bill (A3103-A / S4018-A) into law on Aug. 14, making it a felony to assault a registered nurse (RN) or licensed practical nurse (LPN) while on duty.
This important legislation recognizes the inherent dangers that nurses face as a result of simply reporting to work each day. For far too long, enduring the violent acts of gang members, drug or alcohol abusers, trauma patients, mentally ill patients and distraught family members was considered “just part of the job.”
For NYSNA member Fatima Saint-Vil, of Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn, the law comes too late to bring her attacker to justice, but she is thankful that others will now be protected. Saint-Vil was assaulted in the emergency department on the night of June 15, 2010 by a patient who was alert and oriented, not intoxicated and had no past psychiatric background. The assault was unprovoked and occurred when Saint-Vil was attempting to provide patient care. The police were notified, but no action was taken other than filing a harassment form.
Saint-Vil said she felt saddened by the incident, but rather than adopt a “Why me?” attitude, she instead felt compelled to act. She wrote an impassioned letter to Governor Paterson to tell her story and accompanied the letter with a petition of 150 signatures from fellow nurses, imploring the Governor to sign the bill. She said that as she collected the signatures, many nurses told her that they had been assaulted, but had not bothered to report it because they knew little or no action would be taken on their behalf. While this information is disheartening, Saint-Vil, wants nurses to know that violence is “not part of the job and they should come forward.”
She says that the law means that nurses can feel more protected against assault and expect law enforcement to act. When police failed to respond properly to her incident, she said it caused feelings of anger and resentment on her unit. Saint-Vil reports that nursing management for the facility has since had several meetings with the local precinct and that a representative from the police department is scheduled to visit the facility to speak with the nurses about how to handle and report acts of violence while on the job.
The law protects all RNs and LPNs while on duty and includes all departments, not just the emergency department. This inclusion is critical for the nurse who is forced to work alone due to short-staffing, or covers the night shift and arrives or leaves work during hours of darkness.
“Providing for a felony charge against those who assault an RN or LPN at work will encourage employers to take action to address violence that occurs in the workplace and signals to nurses that it’s time to speak up about the violence they experience on the job,” said Tina Gerardi, NYSNA CEO. “Any deterrent that encourages a potential attacker to think before they assault a nurse on duty is a positive step towards increased safety for everyone.”