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Legislative panel: Threatening or harming health workers should be felony
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Harming or threatening violence against on-duty health care workers should be declared a felony, a Georgia legislative panel recommends in a nine-page report.

Such behavior “is a pervasive problem that threatens the safety of staff, patients and visitors in hospitals and other health care facilities,” states the joint study committee report.

The group also recommends that legislators, who began the 2015 General Assembly on Monday, adopt laws patterned after ones in Nebraska that require health care centers to post signs warning that those committing assault or battery against workers will be prosecuted.

“The requirement could be optional for individual doctor offices,” according to the report, which also urges Georgia to see whether “enhanced penalties” are working in other states.

A resolution approved by the General Assembly in early 2014 created the joint committee to study the issue and recommend any actions or legislation it “deems necessary or appropriate.”

The resolution states more than 80 percent of all hospital staff have been assaulted at least once in their career.

Locally, Sens. Butch Miller, R-Gainesville, and Renee Unterman, R-Buford, served on the committee, along with Kay Hall, emergency room operations manager at Northeast Georgia Medical Center in Gainesville.

The panel held three meetings, including one Sept. 9 at NGMC.

The hospital stated it had 30,432 calls for security in fiscal 2013 — 2,092 of which involved “combative or aggressive mental/behavioral patients,” according to the state report.

Also, 48 patients were classified as “extremely violent and required some form of physical control by security,” and 43 staff members were physically assaulted.

Deb Bailey, director of government affairs for the Northeast Georgia Health System, said she believed the committee “did a good job” in addressing the overall issue and making it more publicly known, and she’ll be interested in how it plays out in the legislature.

NGMC officials spoke to The Times about violence issues during an October tour of the ER.

Hall vividly recalled being strangled by a patient who lunged off an ER table at her. The incident, which happened when she was a young nurse, helped fuel her own mission to protect fellow workers.

“It happens almost daily ... where somebody is hit by a patient in here,” she said. “I’ve been hit, had my hair pulled, been pinched to the ground.”

According to the state report, Georgia “does extend some protections to a narrow set of health care workers” and volunteers, including those in long-term care facilities, personal care homes, home health care and hospices.

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