April 16, 2024

When Emergency Physicians Regularly Fear Violence at Work, It’s Past Time for Change

As the nation’s employers acknowledge April as Workplace Violence Prevention Awareness Month, members of the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) are on Capitol Hill this week to advocate for legislation to strengthen protections for health care workers on the job, as part of the 2024 Leadership and Advocacy Conference.

“When our status quo involves daily fear of assault, it’s time for change,” said Aisha Terry, MD, FACEP, president of ACEP. “Emergency physicians have to be able to focus on caring for patients, without fearing for their safety. We cannot do that if entire care teams are put in harm’s way every time we go to work. Now is the time for legislative solutions that protect health care workers and patients.”

More than nine in ten (91%) emergency physician respondents report being threatened or attacked in the past year, according to a 2024 ACEP poll of its members. In fact, nearly three-quarters (71%) of respondents believe that violence in the emergency department is worse than last year. As part of the polling, ACEP gathered more than 800 troubling stories directly from emergency physicians.

These firsthand accounts reveal that emergency physicians and their teams are regularly assaulted. Most have been punched, kicked, or spat on. Many have had heavy or sharp medical equipment thrown at them. Some have been threatened with weapons ranging from guns and knives to hatchets or machetes.

Current and previous polling underscores that emergency physicians feel they have little to no recourse. Fortunately, nearly half (48%) of the 2024 poll respondents said that legislation to strengthen workforce protections would make them feel safer on the job. 

This week, ACEP will be on Capitol Hill to support the “Workplace Violence Prevention for Health Care and Social Service Workers Act” (H.R. 2663/S. 1176), introduced by Rep. Joe Courtney (D-CT) and Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), which would require the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to issue an enforceable standard to ensure health care and social services workplaces implement violence prevention, tracking, and response systems.

ACEP also supports the bipartisan “Safety from Violence for Healthcare Employees (SAVE) Act” (H.R. 2584/S.2768) introduced by Representatives Larry Bucshon (R-IN) and Madeleine Dean (D-PA) and Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Marco Rubio (R-FL), which would establish federal criminal penalties for violence against health care workers.

During ACEPs annual Leadership and Advocacy Conference, legislators and policymakers will also hear directly from emergency physicians about solutions to the boarding crisis, the importance of due process protections for employed emergency physicians, and more.

“We ask that Congress join us to help shore up the emergency physician workforce by ensuring that doctors on the frontlines can continue to care for anyone, anytime,” said Dr. Terry. “Today, they have an opportunity to address overcrowded emergency departments, strengthen the laws that protect health care workers, and ensure the highest quality of care while making it easier for emergency physicians to do what they do best—save lives.” 

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