Consider this Happy's public service announcement for any patient visiting a Nebraska hospital or medical clinic. Don't assault your health care professionals. Gov. Dave Heineman signed legislation (LB 677) on March 7th, 2012 introduced by Sen Steve Lathrop (D-Omaha) that would classify assaulting of a health care professional as equivalent to assaulting a police officer.
That's right folks, if you are a patient in a hospital or medical clinic in the State of Nebraska and you cause bodily injury to your doctors and nurses, you can be charged with a felony. What are the specific details of Nebraska's felony assault legislation? How does LB 677 define a health care professional?
"A health care professional means a physician or other health care practitioner who is licensed, certified, or registered to perform specified health services consistent with state law who practices at a hospital or a health clinic."
I think that covers just about every licensed provider from doctors and nurses to respiratory therapists and physical therapists. Unfortunately, I don't think this legislation covers the elderly volunteers passing out books or the dedicated men and women from janitorial services who are right in the thick of the action.
Patients can be charged with a first degree assault (Class ID felony) if
- He or she intentionally or knowingly causes serious bodily injury and the the offense is committed while the health care professional is on duty at a hospital or a health clinic.
Patient can be charged with a second degree assault (Class II felony) if
- He or she intentionally or knowingly causes bodily injury with a dangerous instrument and the offense is committed while the health care professional is on duty at a hospital or a health clinic.
Patients can be charged with a third degree assault (Class IIIA felony) if
- He or she intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly causes bodily injury and the offense is committed while the health care professional is on duty at a hospital or a health clinic.
Every hospital and health clinic will be required to display, in a prominent place, a printed sign with a minimum height of 20 inches and a minimum width of 14 inches with each letter to be a minimum of one-fourth inch in height and shall read the following
WARNING: ASSAULTING A HEALTH CARE PROFESSIONAL WHO IS ENGAGED IN THE
PERFORMANCE OF HIS OR HER OFFICIAL DUTIES IS A FELONY.
Several Happy points to consider from this important legislation
- I cringe at the hours of labor cost that went into debating the size of these mandated notification signs that must be placed in a prominent place to be compliant with these legislative mandates.
- I'm still confused. Why should assaulting an officer or assaulting a doctor or nurse carry any different weight or require any different legislative standard than assaulting the Walmart checkout clerk or the cable man. Every life is equal and none should carry any more weight than another with special legislative punitive action. These rules perpetuate a double life standard that places a greater value on some lives over others.
- If you are a patient in the hospital angry at your hospitalist for not giving you what you want, even at the risk of bad patient satisfaction scores, you might want to consider stalking the poor unsuspecting elderly volunteer passing out the feel good arts and crafts. Apparently, their lives are not as worthy for a felony assault charge as the doctors and nurses.
- Or if you really want to get your doctor or nurse, an easy way around this felony legislation is to go outside for your smoke break (nobody follows these hospital smoking ban policies and nobody is enforcing them either) between 7-7:30 am or pm and wait for your nurse or hospitalist to walk in the front door for their shift change. Since these health care professionals aren't technically on duty yet, assaulting them before or after their shift waives their right to a felony charge against you.
- Tell the judge and your lawyer "the last thing I remember was getting an IV". Then claim you had a bad reaction to a drug ordered by a physician and administered by a nurse. That way you can claim your assault was an iatrogenic result of the treatment plan your doctor had ordered. Then watch the DA drop the case like a hot potato as any defense attorney could find any number of doctors to get on the stand for $500 an hour and claim that the patient had a bad reaction to a drug given to them in the hospital. At this point, The Joint Commission might feel compelled to get involved in the interest of patient safety. We shouldn't be allowing our patients to go around punching doctors and nurses. That's the rationale that will be handed down and if we don't have policies in place to prevent it, we should. A smart defense lawyer and patient might even try to counter sue the hospital, doctor and nurse for pain and suffering as a direct result of their negligence in administering a drug that caused them harm.
I'm not even sure why we are having this conversation. Everyone know the patient is always right, even though we know higher patient satisfaction scores are associated with higher mortality. What happened to our team spirit? We need to make sure our patient satisfaction scores do not suffer under the weight of this legislative action that is sure to upset a few of our violent patients. Even patients who assault us have a right to rate our service for them. And I can assure you, if we press charges against them for assault, they aren't going to give us glowing reviews. The last time I checked, assault was not an exclusion criteria for throwing out bad patient satisfaction scores.
And since our hospital payments by Medicare are determined by a measly 300 patient discharges out of tens of thousands, we should not risk our good scores over minor issues like nurses and doctors getting punched in the face, spit on or bitten in a rage of anger that we caused by our own defense attorney discovered negligence. We just need to let it go for the good of the organization. If we want to collect our Medicare money, we need to learn how to better pick our battles.