American Hospital Association urges attorney general to address violence against healthcare workers


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The American Hospital Association has expressed concerns about violence against healthcare workers, telling U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland in a letter this week that the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the issue.

The organization is requesting that Merrick support legislation that would “protect healthcare workers from assault and intimidation.”

Such violence has long been an issue in healthcare, and the AHA acknowledged that hospitals and health systems have long sought to deter aggressive acts against their employees through various protocols. 

But the organization cited evidence that violence against hospital employees has increased substantially, with no end to the trend in sight: A study published in the National Library of Medicine shows 44% of nurses reported experiencing physical violence, and 68% reported experiencing verbal abuse during the heights of the pandemic.

The AHA also cited instances of violence reported by various news outlets. Some of the more alarming reports consist of a Georgia patient kicking a nurse in the ribs; a South Dakota nurse being thrown against a wall and bitten; and a Taiwanese medical student in New York who was kicked, dragged to the ground and peppered with racial epithets.


Workplace violence carries substantial consequences to the larger healthcare system. Aside from the physical and psychological injury that can befall healthcare workers, violence and intimidation can make it difficult for nurses, doctors and other clinical staff to provide quality care.

“Nurses and doctors cannot provide attentive care when they are afraid for their personal safety, distracted by disruptive patients and family members, or traumatized from prior violent interactions,” the AHA wrote. “In addition, violent interactions at healthcare facilities tie up valuable resources and can delay urgently needed care for other patients.”

Violence negatively impacts patient satisfaction and employee productivity, and increases the potential for adverse medical events, the group said.

As such, the AHA is advocating for a federal response.

Specifically, the organization wants to see protections similar to those addressing the rise in violent behavior aboard commercial aircraft. In 2021, the U.S. Department of Justice was directed to prioritize prosecutions when airline employees were harmed by passengers. Vigorous enforcement created a safer traveling environment by deterring violent behavior, according to the AHA.

“Our nation’s healthcare workers deserve the same protections and the same commitment from the Department of Justice,” the group wrote. “Unfortunately, there is no existing federal statute that protects healthcare workers from the even greater incidence of violence that they experience.”


Data supports the claim that workplace violence in healthcare is a pervasive issue. Numbers compiled by the Cleveland Clinic in 2021 show that such violence is about four times more common in healthcare than it is in other industries.

Primary care offices, home healthcare, medical offices, behavioral health settings and ERs are all at risk. About 40% of psychiatrists have reported physical assault, according to the Cleveland Clinic, and among psychiatric aids the rate of violence is 69 times the national rate of violence in the workplace. Meanwhile, in the ER, one in three nurses have considered leaving the profession after being victimized by a patient.

A National Nurses United survey conducted around the same time showed that, of the 15,000 registered nurses nationwide who responded, 20% reported they were facing increased workplace violence, an issue the union claimed was due primarily to staffing shortages experienced during the pandemic.

Several states are considering bills that would offer some form of protection for healthcare workers, whether it be from physical or verbal assault or other forms of abuse. Oregon, for example, is mulling a House bill that would make it third-degree assault for someone to intentionally or recklessly injure a hospital worker while they’re performing official duties, while the Colorado State Senate recently passed a bill that would ban the “doxxing” of healthcare workers. Doxxing reveals private information about someone via the internet, opening the door to potential harassment.

Cleveland Clinic’s approach to addressing the issue has been multi-pronged, featuring measures such as scanning for weapons at the entrance, establishing a 24/7 police presence in ERs, and requiring the completion of workplace violence training.

Twitter: @JELagasse
Email the writer: [email protected]


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