Amid a rise in violence against health care workers, Gov. Phil Murphy on Monday legaized harsher penalties against those convicted of threatening or assaulting anyone who works or volunteers in a health care setting.
The new law requires health care facilities to post a notice stating that it is a crime to assault a health care worker.
Those who threatened a health care worker will automatically be charged with a disorderly persons offense, which is punishable by a prison sentence of up to six months, a fine of up to $1,000, or both.
Those convicted of assaulting a health care worker will have to take an anger management course for up to 12 months and complete up to 30 days of community service in addition to any prison term or fine imposed on them by a judge.
The law comes less than a year after the New Jersey Hospitals Association reported a 14.6% increase in abuse against staff between 2019 and 2021 at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
More than half of the incidents reported were acts of violence – an 11% increase in incidents between 2019 and 2021. About 44% were incidents of verbal abuse – a 25% increase between 2019 and 2021.
About 84% of all incidents are perpetrated by patients followed by coworkers at 9% and relatives of patients at 7%, according to the hospitals association.
One of the most heinous attacks in recent memory occurred when a travel nurse struck a 54-year-old employee of Hackensack University Medical Center with a wrench and set her on fire in February 2022. The victim survived but suffered third-degree burns to her upper body, face and hands. The alleged assailant was found dead the next day of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Health care and social service workers “experience the highest rates of injuries caused by workplace violence and are five times as likely to suffer a workplace violence injury than workers overall,” according to a U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 2018 report. Between 2016 and 2020, there were 207 health care worker deaths due to workplace violence in the U.S.