NEW YORK NURSE: March/April 2012
After NYSNA members pushed the issue for years, the state legislature passed the 2010 Violence Against Nurses law, which makes it a Class D felony to assault a nurse while on duty.
It was an important win for nurses in New York and across the country.
“This legislation gave us an important tool to combat violence,” said Nancy Kaleda, interim deputy executive director of labor in NYSNA’s Economic & General Welfare program. “Now our members are making it come alive in their hospitals and in support of their fellow nurses, no matter where they work.”
The latest incident that brought this law back into the public spotlight occurred this past March, after a celebrity pushed and kicked two nurses in a maternity ward at the non-union Northern Westchester Hospital, while the nurses rushed to stop an infant from being taken off the unit without proper authorization. The nurses said they were doing their best to protect the infant, appropriate with the hospital’s protocols and their professional standards.
The situation made national headlines, and NYSNA plans to join supporters outside a Westchester courtroom in early April to show their desire for strong, decisive action to be taken against the perpetrator.
NYSNA was a leading voice regarding this situation from the beginning, circulating an on-line petition to tell the county district attorney that a felony charge had to be considered for the incident. While the Northern Westchester nurses weren’t NYSNA members, the association gave them its full support.
“Unfortunately, New York’s nurses, no matter whether they work in a city, suburban or rural hospital, public or private, face difficult and too often dangerous, situations,” said Kaleda.
One NYSNA member who can speak to those dangers is Marie Sweeney, a leader from Franklin Hospital who was attacked by a patient in September, 2010. Her assailant pled guilty in March to a Class B felony and is awaiting sentencing. Sweeney gave a victim impact statement.
At Bronx-Lebanon Hospital, another NYSNA member was recently assaulted and that patient is also facing criminal charges, thanks to the NYSNA-backed law. The nurse is making a good recovery, and NYSNA leaders and staff are meeting with hospital officials to take steps to prevent future assaults.
Sweeny continues her long history as a NYSNA advocate by working with state Assemblyman Rory Lancman to promote violence prevention legislation and to gain state Senate sponsors.
To continue the momentum on this issue, Kaleda and NYSNA interim Executive Director Julie Pinkham met with Albany County District Attorney David Soares to thank him for prosecuting the state's first case under the violence act, which resulted in a multi-year sentence for an assault on a state nurse. NYSNA will discuss whether to endorse District Attorney candidates for the first time, given that position’s importance under the new violence law.