New York Law Makes Assaulting a Nurse a Felony




For nurses in New York state, Nov. 1 represented a victory for on-the-job safety. It was the day that the Violence Against Nurses law took effect, making it a felony to assault an on-duty RN or LPN.

For many nurses, including those in home health, dealing with violent or abusive patients and caregivers was considered part of their plight. The New York State Senate passed the legislation in January, noting that, according to the U.S. Department of Justice, nearly 500,000 nurses each year become victims of violent crimes in the workplace. Most commonly reported acts of violence include spitting, biting, hitting and shoving.

Violence in the workplace for nurses is very under-reported. Nurses were either afraid to come forward or not sure if what was happening to them was classified as violence. …,”” says Erin Silk, assistant director of communications for the New York State Nurses Association, which has been working to bring the legislation forward since 2008.

With the Violence Against Nurses law, nurses join the already protected groups of police officers, firefighters and emergency responders. A physical attack against an RN or LPN on duty is a Class D felony, subject to a maximum of seven years in prison.

Nurses have commented that they feel empowered by the law, according to Silk.

“”We had [news about the legislation] posted on our Facebook page, and we got quite a lot of feedback,”” she says. “”I think they’’re excited that somebody has taken notice.””

Added Clout

“Hopefully this bill will deter acts of violence against the approximately 60 RNs and three LPNs at Winthrop-University Hospital Home Health Agency,” says Anne Calvo, RN, BSN, MPS, the agency’’s administrator and director of patient services.

Calvo says that, upon hire, nurses are instructed to leave any home situation in which they feel uncomfortable or unsafe and to immediately call their manager. Nassau County police also give Winthrop’’s providers training for how to identify and defuse potentially violent situations. ““We do serve certain geographic areas that have been identified as high risk due to high crime rates,”” Calvo says. “”Nurses, therapists and home health aides can request escorts — off-duty security guards— to accompany them to those areas.””

Before the Violence Against Nurses law took effect, Calvo says, it was difficult administratively and ethically to refuse care, even in light of clear safety issues. ““In my personal opinion, I think we will be more comfortable in not providing service in cases where we felt the staff was threatened; where before, we’d always put patients’ rights first,”” Calvo says.

Calvo says that despite previous safeguards for home care providers, safety continues to be an issue. Winthrop, she says, makes an average of 3,000 nurse visits each month to homes in Nassau County. “”We’’ve had staff that have been bitten, smacked … and we’’ve walked into situations of potential sexual harassment,”” Calvo says. “”But we haven’’t had anyone who has wanted to press charges against the patient. I don’’t know if that will change.””

Now What?

Eileen Avery, RN

Based on each facility’’s policy, nurses or their managers should call law enforcement when episodes of on-the-job violence occur, says Eileen Avery, RN, MS, associate director of education practice and research at the NYSNA. “”NYSNA is working on educating nurses, as well as management, on how to proceed so that we are proactive, rather than reactive, in these situations,”” Avery says.

The law applies to physical assault, which includes being spit on, bitten, hit or pushed. It does not include verbal assault. Nurses can press charges against anyone, including patients who are delirious or mentally ill. The bill, Avery explains, covers the basic right to press felony charges. The courts will take it from there.

Avery says nurse management also should take this opportunity to update policies regarding violence and make sure their nurses understand those policies.

Spreading the Word

NYSNA is working on a promotional campaign about the law for healthcare providers and the public. It includes news releases and posters for facilities warning readers that assaulting a nurse is a felony.

Roger L. Noyes, director of communications for the Home Care Association of New York State, says the nearly 400-member association supports the law and recognizes the need for providing this protection for nurses. ““One thing that we are going to be doing in the coming weeks is making sure that our membership is informed about the law and try and get some more feedback from them in terms of what they think this will mean for them,”” Noyes says. “”We’’ll also be providing our own recommendations in the area.””

““We can now be empowered to focus on staff safety, while respecting the patients’’ rights for care,”” Calvo says. ““The public should be aware that nurses should not be abused physically just because they are nurses. They’’re human beings, and we all need to be treated humanely.””


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41 responses to “New York Law Makes Assaulting a Nurse a Felony”

  1. Nurse Aides are assaulted more often than anyone else, especially in nursing homes. (Yes, the elderly and patients with dementia can get violent). Its a shame that this is not acknowledged and only nurses are considered to be in this type of danger. Many other healthcare workers have the same issues!

    • I was thinking the same thing. I am a CNA and we get verbally as well as physically abused all the time. Aides are always doing more hands on work and to not include them into that law makes no sense at all!

    • I agree. But there are other titles that include nursing support staff, these should be included as well. Once the patients realize that they can beat on the “Aides” without it being a felony they could go after us more often with a greater force. I hate that we are considered a second class citizen.

    • So, you would file charges on a 80 yr old dementia patient that may kick or hit you? I think it goes with the job….nurses and cna’s.

      • I agree but i hope health care providers would take this into consideration. I would hope that this will prevent attacks by people that are just angry,nasty and mean.

    • I think I’m a bit confused…. I do understand how nurses do get abused however with a mother who has alzheimers…she is the sweetest little thing and very soft spoken however I do see when she is made to do something she just doesn’t want to she still stand up for herself …. in her right mind she would never hurt a fly but in her state now I can say pushed to her limit I could see how she just might … are they saying she would be held responsible ???

    • The law would not cover those cases that you mentioned any how. It is not intended for a person who is mentally incapable of knowing what they are doing. It can only be applied to someone who knowingly assaulted a nurse, such as a case where a drug user on a floor beat up a nurse to get some pain medication meant for another patient. Or, a person who beat up a nurse because she was too slow responding to a call in his room. A couple of weeks ago, a person who was waiting in the ER just walked up to a nurse that was standing at the reception window in the patient’s side and punched her in the face. Or some doctor on a power trip that pushed a nurse out of the way and pushed her so hard she hit her head on the wall of the OR and got a concussion. Those are the incidents that they are referring to. Not someone who has no idea what they are doing.

  2. I was a CNA and CHHA and violence does happen…also been married and divorced twice..3 children out of marriages. Violence happens everywhere. Part of the issue is way 2 much medicine the doctors give for mentally ill…..then all the laws that protect the mentally ill….there isn’t enough research or follow ups with certain individuals and CNAs and CHHA definitely deal with more abuse then LPNs and RNs just because it is more hands on ….don’t get me wrong violence is violence no matter what your ID says…Then all the laws that protect these individuals when the cops get called everyones hands are tied until something happens…..by that time damage is done!!! There is no law that can protect the fact that everyone needs care and help and when you are a caregiver it is a risk we all take.

    • You are absolutely right. Violence happens everywhere. You even have cases where wives beat up husbands and children beat up parents. I would have thought that anytime you lay your hands on someone you run the risk of being charged with a crime unless you are defending yourself. Last week we even say this lady beat up a guy on our bowling league over something – this was in public, in a bowling alley, if you can believe that. People from the two teams had to jump in and break it up. It ended up that the police had to come.

      Sometimes it makes you wonder what happened to those people when they were younger that makes it so they only know how to function using violence as a form of communication.

    • Texas State Board of Nursing (TBON) has presented this for legislation the last 3 legislative sessions. This last year the Texas legislature recognized a portion of the bill. Nurses in Texas are not yet protected from workplace violence.

  3. So it’s okay to assault a nurse aid, but not a nurse? Or are we forgetting that nurse aids are often the most often in contact with many people that have constant contact with nurses? Okay, not in hospitals so much anymore, but it’s exceptionally common in nursing home and long term care environments. As is constant verbal abuse and sexual harassment, both from residents and administrative staff. Not so much peer to peer staff, but administrative staff in every facility I’ve worked in have been outright vile with how they treat their cna’s as worthless worker drones while complaining they can’t get or keep enough to work in the facilities. Doesn’t help most are being paid less now than the fry cook at McDonald’s and with lower benefits than a cashier in wal mart!

  4. That begins a slippery slope of blame. Nurses (and aides) are inherently subject to getting hit/spit on and the like. But, many times these acts from patients are NOT INTENTIONAL. Hypoxic patients are just that– suffering from lack of oxygen. Hypercapnic patients are not always fast asleep; they could be ‘bonkers’ way before their level of CO2 builds up and they are fast ‘asleep’. High or low sodium patients will also present with confusion. Confusion can and does lead to combativeness. Many times when said patient recovers from serum abnormalities they are horrified to hear that they were combative. So making an across the board law of battery/assault on patients is not the answer.

    • As a nurse who has dealt with combative patients, I like this idea of holding people more accountable for their actions, but I feel there are some issues not being addressed by it. I agree with Judy’s comment. There are plenty of patients out there who might be suffering from an acid/base, sodium, or other type of imbalance that could make them act very combative and once they become stabilized, they would feel horrible about what they did to others. Each patient’s case really needs to be looked at individually. I don’t feel that these patients should automatically be considered felons.

      Also, what about CNAs, doctors, physical therapists, occupational therapists, ED technicians, CRMAs, and other people that work with our patients? They all run the risk of getting hurt, too. I don’t see a mention of them in this article.

      • On average physicians spend 5 to 15 mins with a patienrs. Where as nursing assistants are in constant contact with patients. A physical therapist has a choice nursing assistants do not. Over all healthcare workers are more likely to experience violence. It also depends on the situation. They are patients due to electrolytes imbalances or TBI become violent. Not only is it patients but visitors can become aggressive. I once witness a visitor bring in a gun to the unit. There should be more violence intervention programs for healthcare workers.

  5. Awesome, but what about Cnas? Not saying nurses aren’t important, they do not spend nearly as much time with patients as us cnas. I’m always getting hit, pinched, slapped, spit at, scratched. Which isn’t easy to deal with, when your just trying to help them. I’m just saying don’t leave us CNAS out, we are important too

    • The violence against nurses law was passes in 2010.
      The law which went into effect December 1 THIS YEAR covers ALL direct care medical workers! 😀

  6. So let me get this straight…
    If a mentally ill patient physically spits on a nurse, the nurse has the right to press felony charges against the patient?
    The patient is then entitled to a trial by a jury of his peers.
    If a jury of peers cant convict a confessed SERIAL KILLER of murder because of mental illness what makes people think that a mentally ill patient will ever be given jail time for spitting on a nurse?
    Instead that mentally ill patient will not be able to stand trial because he IS mentally ill he will serve his time in a locked psych facility where another nurse will be physically abused.
    Doesnt sound a solution to me.
    It sounds like a waste of time and money and another way of one facility passing the buck to another at the ultimate expense to the nurse, the union and tax payers.
    And i agree with everyones comments regarding CNAs. CNAs have more physical contact and are more likely to be abused than RNs or LPNs.
    I am an OT and i have been bitten, kicked, hit, grabbed and felt up by my adult and demented patients more often than any RN or LPN i have ever met.
    Where is my protection? Heres the answer… There is none…. If you are afraid of the possibility of being bitten, hit or spit on then maybe a job in clinical health care is not for you. you should choose something different dont be lured by the relatively high wages, flexible schedules and union benefits. Think about your own quality of life first.

    • As an RN I fully agree that all heath care workers should be included in this legislation. I am however, concerned about the many medically challenged and elderly confused patients, who are simply old, ill and confused being dragged into a legal quagmire where only lawyers benefit.

    • I worked as an RN in a major Hospital in NY. We took care of both chronically physically impaired children, and traumatic injured patients. They ranged from 1 year up to 21 years of age. A teen with paraplegia from an accident was having a tantrum in the hall. as I was clearing the other patients out of the way, he pulled his foot pedal off his wheelchair and flung it at my head. I managed to duck, and jump back, but the pedal hit me on the top of my foot. It raised a lump that I can still feel, 20 years later. the MD in charge of the unit witnessed the whole thing, The MD charted that the pedal was “Accidently dropped on a Staff member’s foot” I wanted to call the Police. I was encouraged NOT to do that, especially as that MD had documented on a legal record that it was an accident. The only “accidental” thing about it was that he missed his target. My head. Nothing was done. as far as I know the MD was not penalized. After that, very time a Patient assaulted me, I went home, and stayed out for at least 3 days. It wasn’t much of a protest, but it was all the recourse I had. I have had a Patient repeatedly kick me when I would stop him from assaulting other staff or patients, had things thrown at me, elbowed, grabbed by my hair, cursed at, threatened. After awhile, it becomes the norm and that is sad

  7. I appreciate this law very much. It should be a national law for all of the United states….but to not include the people who are usually in the direct line of fire…..the CNA. …well this has me a little concerned….

  8. I’m a nurse, male nurse. I am hear to say that nobody should ever abuse a nursing staff whether CNA, LVN, RN, etc…
    However, it’s much easier to accept a little abuse from a patient considering that individual is not him/herself. But having to accept abuse from your peers is the worst. The very people that are in trenches working along side us, the so-called people that should have your back and then to find that they’ve been undermining you for some time……now that’s painful. Cuts much deeper, scars more emotionally disfiguring, and the healing much longer.

  9. When will those that brand themselves as nurse (RNs and LPNs) have respect for CNAs who are the ones doing the dirty jobs, providing care and comfort for the patients/client/residents whilst the so called nurses are standing behind medications cart or sitting in the nursing stations waiting for the CNAs to answer to call lights and tell them what’s going on with their patients/clients /residents? This is worst discriminatory act against CNAs committed by the advocates of this act. You’re getting the gigantic pay whilst they’re doing 90% of the caregiving job and when it comes to protection you limit it to yourself. God is watching you

    • Maybe you need a new job. Seems to me your very angry with your career and the people you work with. I am an RN and am doing 95% of their care on my own working in the ICU. The CNA’s are there to assist us when needed (which of course is always appreciated) but it’s usually easier to just do the job myself instead of looking all around for help. And with my licence on the line, I prefer to know exactly how my patients are cared for. Also, we do not “brand” ourselves, we went to school and worked hard for that title. So maybe you need to find another place of employment where the nurses respect and value the CNA. That respect is a 2 way street, and with that attitude you won’t get far. And just because the nurse is sitting at a computer behind the destination doesn’t mean she is not working. Unfortunately every single interaction and detail needs to be documented or the hospital does not get paid, and we don’t have jobs. And although the CNA has the ability to chart those things, such as bathing, hygeine, repo ect. I find it does not get done. In a 13 hr shift, I’m lucky to sit for an hour, as I am required to be in the room every single hour doing my job. I guess it’s a good thing god is watching, I know I am an excellent nurse and find the cna’s who feel because I am charting in a computer, along with doing all the other “duties” that néed to be done, answering call bells, that I am not “working”. Until of course they complete school and become a nurse and realize how wrong they really were. And I’m pretty sure, that law applies to all health care workers, as it should. So everbody can stop jumping to conclusions.

    • How about other health professionals who abuse nurses and CNAs? Many instances of physician abuse occur. This includes throwing things at staff such as charts, waste paper baskets, pushing etc. This is not usually reported but, if it is, it is usually handled by the medical staff. Absent physicians who have respect for nurses. it is swept under the carpet.

  10. Don’t get me wrong….I think this law is a long time overdue. I’m a CNA and have been for 12 years now. I’ve been kicked, hit, spit on, punched, threatened to get my throat slit from ear to ear. But charging a person because they’re combative and completely out of their mind, when they don’t know what time of day, day it is, let alone what year it is doesn’t sit right with me. They can’t help that. Yes it sucks when u get hurt, but it also comes with the territory.

    • I agree, but all patients don’t fit into this category. When i worked in the ER people would come in angry and mean. Men that had history’s of abuse and domestic violence.They bring their lifestyle into the ER. The threaten and at times are violent with the staff. I find it strange that many of these bullies threaten women hut calm down when a male enters the room.

  11. In response to an above comment:

    When will those that brand themselves CNA’s get the chip off there shoulder that they are somehow not respected or appreciated? As a nurse I consider my aides a valued part of the health care team, could not perform my job without them. And your right , God is watching , and envy is a horrible deadly sin. That gigantic pay you speak of…..goes to my giant student loan….but once a CNA myself, I decided against being envious of those around me and instead focused on my dreams.

    And P.S. I’m not sure what kind of nurses you work with Ms. Samura, but I’m down in the trenches with my girls , so that’s a pretty derogatory statement.
    Abuse happens from the very top of the chain with the surgeon all the way down, and should be handled appropriately and with each case taken into consideration based on past mental and physical history.
    And i will be praying that this hatred you seem to have for the very nurses you work with doesn’t eat up your soul.
    God bless

    • Well said, I was thinking the same thing. I barely sit down in a 13 hr shift, and do 95% of the care on my own working in the ICU. Where I work nurses and CNA generally work well together, but it really bothers me to hear comments like that.

  12. As a nurse, and a prior CNA, I do not feel that nurses will file charges against patients that are medically or mentally compromised. Patients that have Dementia can be combative, and all staff should have Dementia training, and when patients are agitated and aggressive the staff should not continue what they are doing and get a nurse. Most times it is all in the approach. Nurses are assaulted not just by patients, but by family and guests of patients. In home care nurses are assaulted by non patients hoping to steal drugs and needles. These people should be charged with felonies. In the clinical setting families and visitors become aggressive as well.

  13. I am relieved to see that has been put into place. I’ve read some of the comments and I must disagree with the majoritiesof CNA ‘s that claimed that they come into contact with the patient the most this is not true in-home care environment
    My CNA comes, watches tv and naps. I do all the work.

    More importantly, it us now time to fight for benefits. Police and firemen retire with pensions, medical care, dental benefits, and tax deferred savings plan. They get time+half on holidays. Then days off. . Yes they are goverment employees. But so am I. My patients are all on medicaid. I get paid from the state. My hourly rate has been the same for 20 yrs. something needs to be done!

    • Ok it sounds to me u have a crappy home cnas you need to get another one not all cnas are like that we are there to take care of our clients I would switch agency’s if u were you

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