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Published on February 26, 2024
Oregon Considers Felony Penalties for Hospital Assaults, Advocates Warn of Risks for Disabled PatientsSource: Google Street View

Violence within the walls of Oregon hospitals has driven lawmakers to propose a controversial measure, House Bill 4088, that could ramp up penalties for assault against healthcare staff to felony status – a move that has sparked heated debate over potential collateral damage to patients with disabilities. According to a KATU report, supporters argue the bill addresses a critical safety issue for hospital workers citing a worrying trend, with 70% of emergency room nurses reporting assaults in 2021, according to a survey by the Oregon Nurses Association.

However, advocacy groups, including the ACLU of Oregon and Disability Rights Oregon, argue that the bill could disproportionately target vulnerable patients. A statement by Disability Rights Oregon articulated their stance, raising concerns that individuals with conditions such as Autism and dementia could be slapped with heavy-handed punishments for behavior stemming from their disabilities, such as a reaction to overwhelming sensory stimuli.

ER Nurse Richard Botterill at Providence Hospital backed the need for stringent measures, sharing a string of violent incidents faced by his colleagues. Botterill recounted experiences of physical assault to MyNBC15, including being hit, kicked, and even having clumps of hair pulled out by aggressive patients. This echoes the sentiments of Representative Travis Nelson, a nurse himself who shared his encounters with violence at the bedside.

Under HB 4088, assaults on hospital staff would be classified as a Class-C felony, with convicted individuals facing up to five years in prison, and a fine of up to $125,000. While the bill seeks to implement preventive measures like metal detectors and modified employee badges, some critics argue, that the enhanced penalties may not effectively deter assaults but would add to the existing criminal justice disparities for disabled communities. With the legislative session clock ticking, legislators are under pressure to push the bill through for Governor Tina Kotek's signature, leaving little time for stakeholders to contest its implications or seek amendments. Nurses on the ground, like Botterill fear without this bill change is off the table, resigned to a workplace where violence has become the norm.