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Atlanta Shooting Reflects Rise In Violence At Health Facilities

The deadly Atlanta medical-office shooting highlighted a growing concern in the health care industry and state governments: violence in medical facilities, reports the Wall Street Journal. Last Wednessday, a man opened fire with a handgun in the waiting room on the 11th floor of Northside Medical Midtown. The day before, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp signed a law, which partially took effect May 2, allowing hospital systems to establish their own police forces. Other states have passed bills aimed at preventing attacks and increasing penalties for assaults. Federal data show a marked increase in reported violence against health workers in the past decade, and the trend may have continued through the COVID-19 pandemic. The problem is contributing to the health industry’s staffing crunch by prompting nurses to leave their jobs. “If you don’t feel safe on the job, you aren’t going to last long,” said Matt Caseman of the Georgia Nurses Association. The Atlanta shooter, Deion Patterson, 24, killed one woman and injured two patients and two employees. The woman killed was Amy St. Pierre, a mother of two and a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention employee. Patterson, who had served in the Coast Guard, was arrested in a suburb. His lawyer, R. Shawn Hoover, said he "is a veteran and suffers from apparent mental-health issues.” There were 10.3 incidences of nonfatal workplace violence resulting in days away from work per 10,000 full-time health workers in 2020, up from 6.4 incidences in 2011, says the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. In Massachusetts, workers in health facilities experienced a physical assault, verbal abuse or a threat every 38 minutes last year, up from every 57 minutes in 2020, says the Massachusetts Health and Hospital Association. A 2022 survey of more than 11,000 nurses by the American Nurses Foundation found that 29% said they had experienced “violence, bullying, or incivility” at work in the previous year. Health workers are “dealing with patients who are hitting them, they’re dealing with patients who are spitting at them, they’re dealing with patients in extreme examples who are attacking them,” said Katie Fullam Harris of MaineHealth, the largest health system in Maine. At least five other states have pending legislation dealing with healthcare violence, says the National Conference of State Legislatures. Starting July 1, Georgia’s new law will set stiffer penalties for assaults against health care workers.

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