Capitol Update: Rep. Linda Featherston calls for more workplace protections for nurses, health care staff

"According to a 2018 report from the US Bureau of Labor and Statistics, health care and social service workers are five times as likely as the average worker to suffer injury injury due to workplace violence," Democratic Rep. Linda Featherston writes in this week's Capitol Update column. File image.

Each week during the 2022 Kansas legislative session, we will provide Blue Valley area legislators the opportunity to share their thoughts about what’s happening in the state capitol.

Below is this week’s submission from Democratic Rep. Linda Featherston of Kansas House District 16, which covers parts of Lenexa and Overland Park. 

Let’s face it, the past two years have been difficult for everyone.

Many have had to make choices from a list that seemed to have no good options. Worry seems to have consumed all of our lives, and the the stress has become more than many can handle. Through it all, health care workers have continued onward. They’ve donned gloves and gowns, masks and caps, goggles and face shields. All in an effort to protect themselves, their families, and their patients.

They’ve begged us to protect ourselves and others, and many feel disheartened at being ignored by so many. Their hearts break as they treat critically ill patients whose suffering could have been avoided.

All of this comes as health care workers face record levels of violence in the workplace.

According to a 2018 report from the US Bureau of Labor and Statistics, health care and social service workers are five times as likely as the average worker to suffer injury injury due to workplace violence. Surveys by the American College of Emergency Physicians report that nearly half of emergency department physicians have been physically assaulted at work. The Emergency Nurses Association reports that roughly 70% of emergency nurses have been hit or kicked at work. Add to that a not-so-healthy dose of harsh words and yelling, and you’ve got the definition of a dangerous workplace.

This not only harms emergency department staff, it affects patient care. It drives health care workers from their jobs, which adds to the dire nursing shortage hospitals are currently facing. It undermines the resources hospitals put into staff training and retention.

It was asked at a meeting of hospital representatives last month what we as legislators could do to help. An early response was to increase the penalty for attacking a hospital worker. Thus began my conversations with area hospitals, hospital associations, law enforcement, the district attorney, fellow legislators and the revisor’s office.

I am pleased to report that the vast majority supported holding those who attack hospital workers accountable for their actions through a special protections clause. As we move toward a final draft of the bill, I am hopeful that we will craft language that deters attacks against hospital workers while allowing assaulted workers to feel that filing charges against their attackers is worth the effort.

I hope we can maintain the strong level of bipartisan support that initial talks have garnered. Most of all, I hope that hospital workers know that we as a community hear and support them.

I am humbled to serve the people of District 16 and the citizens of the great state of Kansas. If you have thoughts about this bill or other concerns, you may reach me at linda.featherston@house.ks.gov or text me at 913-735-3635.