In response to the growing concern of violence against health care workers, North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper has signed into law a bill that mandates the presence of law enforcement officers at hospitals and emergency departments.
House Bill 125, the North Carolina Health and Human Services Workforce Act, which went into effect on October 1, seeks to improve the safety of health care staff, patients and visitors by addressing the escalating incidents of violence in health care settings, which have become more pronounced since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The bill also includes provisions of Pitt County Republican Representative Tim Reeder’s House Bill 809, the Hospital Violence Protection Act.
A key provision of the bill requires every hospital with an emergency department to conduct a security risk assessment and develop a safety plan to protect staff members, patients and their families from potential violence.
“With the challenges of violence in the workplace, it prevents us as doctors, nurses and staff from dedicating our time and energy to the patient when we’re worried about our own safety,” Reeder, who is also an emergency physician, said of the policy.
The bill further mandates the continuous presence of a law enforcement officer at hospitals, unless the facility collaborates with local law enforcement to determine that such presence is unnecessary.
This measure is intended to deter individuals from acting violently and ensure the safety of all hospital stakeholders.
Pitt County Democratic Representative Gloristine Brown expressed her support for the legislation. “I just think that maybe having the presence of law enforcement there would deter a person from maybe acting further than what they may if they didn’t see anyone there,” she said.
Further, Brown argued that, when used appropriately, this requirement could be beneficial in ensuring the safety health care workers so that they can focus on patient care.
One significant aspect of House Bill 125 is its strict penalties for those who assault health care workers providing care or services.
Specifically, the bill opens the possibility for felony offense charges in such cases.
The bill was partly motivated by a survey conducted earlier this year by members of the North Carolina Nurses Association (NCNA), which found that nearly half of the respondents had witnessed violence in the workplace within the last two years, with 27% reporting that they were victims of such incidents.
“It’s a fierce urgency, and we have to speak up and do something. Sadly, some people have been told, ‘oh that’s just part of the job. It’s not part of the job,” NCNA President Meka Douthit Ingram said, when the bill first passed the House in May.
The bill also requires hospitals to annually submit data on incidents of violence and assault to the state. The Administrative Office of the Courts will report annually to the Legislature on the number of individuals charged and convicted under the law addressing assault on hospital personnel.
Despite the wide support for the bill, it has raised concerns about the financial burden on smaller rural hospitals that are already facing staffing and budget challenges.
However, the requirements for increased security and hospitals’ first risk reports will not take effect until October 2025, allowing time for hospitals and law enforcement agencies to make the necessary budget adjustments.
The North Carolina Healthcare Association, which represents the state’s hospitals, did not take an official position on the bill but is actively working with legislators to address the root causes of violence and ensure the best possible outcome for health care providers and patients.
“We would like to see the issue addressed in a way that does not create another unattainable mandate on hospitals that would add to the heavy administrative and regulatory burdens they already face,” a spokesperson with the organization stated back in May.