MURRELLS INLET, SC (WBTW) – A Grand Strand health system is pushing for tougher penalties for anyone who assaults a medical professional.
Tidelands Health CEO Bruce Bailey says a head nurse in the emergency department was extremely traumatized after a patient kicked her in the groin.
“She talks very passionately and very sincerely about how hard it was to come back to work,” said Bailey.
Deborah Gainey joined Bailey in Columbia on Tuesday to advocate for the state House of Representatives to pass a bill, strengthening penalties for anyone convicted of assaulting health care professionals. That includes doctors, physician’s assistants, nurses, EMTs, firefighters and allied health professionals.
The bill would increase the maximum penalties for assault and battery against a medical worker. For the highest level, assault and battery of a high and aggravated nature against a medical worker, anyone convicted could face up to 30 years in prison. Currently, the maximum for that felony is 20 years.
The bill would also increase the maximum penalties for first-, second- and third-degree assault and battery. For first-degree assault against a health care professional, the maximum sentence would go up from 10 years in prison to 20 years.
The maximum for second-degree assault against a medical worker would increase from 3 to 10 years in prison. For third-degree assault against a health care professional, the maximum would increase from 30 days to a year in prison.
Bailey says between arrested people needing treatment, those suffering from mental health issues and other distressed people, emergency rooms can be very tense.
“You end up with some folks in the ER who may not want to be there, so it creates a pretty volatile environment,” Bailey said.
Bailey says the bill has gained importance after two, unrelated shootings at hospitals in other parts of the state, two days apart in April. One shooting happened in Orangeburg, the other happened in Laurens County.
Even before those shootings, Tidelands Health has been investing in keeping workers safe.
“We’ve tripled our security budget at our hospitals to have more presence in the facility in the ER as a deterrent,” said Bailey.
Tidelands also says it created an area at Tidelands Georgetown Memorial Hospital to safely and temporarily house behavioral health patients until they can be properly placed. Hundreds of employees have also been trained to de-escalate confrontations.
Bailey says harsher penalties are only one step towards creating safe environments for medical workers in all South Carolina hospitals.
“We need to have a better plan that deals with the folks in need for mental health and substance abuse,” he said.
Tidelands Health says studies show health care professionals are four times as likely as other industries to be victims of workplace violence. The vast majority of that violence comes from patients.
The bill is in the House judiciary committee.