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Lawmaker explains proposed national legislation to prevent workplace violence in health care

For weeks, our I-Team has been investigating the pervasive problem of violence against health care workers.

ST. LOUIS — Since two health care workers were stabbed by a patient at SSM Health DePaul Hospital, we haven’t stopped asking questions. 

PART 1: ‘Under-reported, pervasive and getting worse’: Health care workers attacked by patients

PART 2: What's being done to prevent violence against health care workers?

We’ve talked with health care workers in our area who tell us this problem isn’t unique to one hospital. And we talked with a lawmaker working to prevent the violence with national legislation. 

Health care workers in our area tell us attacks from patients have long been part of the job, leading to sometimes lifelong injuries.

“I've had a broken nose. I've been punched," said Trevor Wolfe, a Missouri Nurses Association spokesperson.

“She stabbed me on my spine," said Kayla McMahan, an SSM Health paramedic.

“She grabbed me by my neck and threw me against a wall and pulled a knife," said Shelley Miller, an agency nurse who works at hospital systems in the St. Louis area.

“Shoved me against the wall and punched me in my face," said Rachel Williams, another St. Louis-based nurse. 

We spoke with a lawmaker behind national legislation aimed at preventing violence: Senate Bill 4182.

“It is heartbreaking to think that men and women who are in health care field or social work field have their lives at risk when they go to work every day," said Sen. Dick Durbin, (D-Illinois), who cosponsored the legislation. “This is really a life or death situation."

The bill passed in the House of Representatives. Now, it’s awaiting a vote in the Senate. 

“But my problem, of course, is I don't have Republican support. We're working on that. I hope I can convince them, you know, this is not a partisan issue at all," said Durbin. 

If the bill he co-sponsored becomes law, there would be national minimum requirements for health care and social service employers to prevent workplace violence. Critics worry about cost and implementation. Advocates argue it would ultimately make workplaces safer with better staffing and tracking of violent incidents. 

After a patient stabbed two health care workers July 11 at SSM Health DePaul Hospital, we spoke with leaders there about changes that could help make health care workers safer around the country. 

“So we do need to have that protection at the federal level," said Dr. Alexander Garza, SSM Health's Chief Community Health Officer.

Dr. Garza calls legislation, like SB 4182, a critical first step

“Clearly, legislation helps. You know, I think some of the parallels that you can draw are, you know, there's federal legislation against assaulting people that work in the airlines," he said. “And so that's not universal for health care workers.” 

We’re told the earliest the Senate could take new action on the proposed national legislation aimed at preventing workplace violence in health care is mid-September. Republican Missouri Senators Roy Blunt and Josh Hawley tell us they’ll review the legislation should it come before the Senate for a vote. 

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