It was disappointing to read Tuesday’s letter attacking House Bill 269 as being an assault on Montanans suffering from Mental Illness or PSTD. Nothing could be further from the truth. HB 269 is simply a law designed to protect healthcare workers from vicious assault in their workplace. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, over 500,000 nurses are violently assaulted in their workplace every year! Workplace violence against healthcare workers ranks no. 1 with over 50percent of all workplace assaults occurring in healthcare situations. This situation is especially bad in Emergency Rooms where fully 54.8 percent of nurses surveyed reported being assaulted at work in the last seven days.
Montana is not immune from such assaults, at least three nurses in our state received injuries from workplace assaults last year which will likely prevent them from ever returning to their chosen occupation. HB 269 recognizes this problem and creates a separate offence of assaulting a healthcare worker. Unlike current felony assault laws, it does not require any minimum fine or sentence, the option to impose such conditions rests in the hands of the prosecuting attorneys and judges, just as it does today. What HB 269 does do is allow these public officers the option of imposing mandatory evaluations and treatment, provide restitution for the victims and cover their health care costs.
Montanans suffering from mental illness or veterans suffering from PTSD are no more likely to be charged under HB 269 than under existing laws. Nurses are not in the business of law enforcement nor are they likely to file any more charges against violators who are legitimately impaired by their health-related conditions. Nurses and other healthcare workers are there to help Montanans suffering from disease, accident or other ailment. Thirty-eight other states have addressed the problem of workplace violence against nurses by enacting felony assault laws to deal with violators. It’s time for Montana to do the same.