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A bill protecting medical workers from violence has bipartisan support


Physicians and health providers may be about to get new protections against violence.

Health care workers are increasingly the targets of threats, and now members of the General Assembly seem to be poised to do something about it. Clark Barrinneau with the Medical Society of Virginia says physicians all over Virginia have had their lives threatened.

"When an office has to close because they have been threatened to kill their whole staff, patients miss out," says Barrinneau. "The sheriff has to get involved. A pediatric office can be closed up to a week. Staff are going to quit. It is a pervasive problem that's only growing, both anecdotally and by the facts."

The Senate is now considering a bill introduced by Delegate Rob Bell, a Republican from Albemarle County, that would change what’s needed to prosecute threats against health care providers – removing the location element that they need to be in hospital or an emergency room or in a clinic. Richard Ridge of the Virginia Nurses Association says one in three nurses experience violence at work.

"Removing the location restriction from the current law is important because only 36% of nurses work in hospitals," Ridge explains. "More and more care is being delivered outside – nursing homes, home care, other clinics, other settings."

The bill has already passed the House of Delegates with a bipartisan vote, and this week it emerged from a Senate committee with a bipartisan vote. The full Senate is expected to take it up later this week.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Michael Pope is an author and journalist who lives in Old Town Alexandria.