Gavel and stethoscope on wood.

Healthcare workers facing increased threats of violence.

The past few years have been difficult for health care workers, particularly in hospitals. Waves of the pandemic, overcrowded ICUs and emergency rooms, and recent labor shortages have all added trauma and stress to the job.

On top of it all, healthcare workers have also faced increased threats of violence while doing their jobs. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, healthcare and social service workers face the highest rate of workplace violence – they are five times more likely to get injured at work than workers overall – and that is based on 2018 data, so it is expected those numbers are much higher now.  

Congress is working on legislation to combat this growing problem – the question is not whether the problem exists, but how should the threats be addressed?

Last week, the Workplace Violence Prevention for Health Care and Social Services Act was introduced in the Senate after a similar bill was passed in the House. The legislation would require hospitals to develop workplace violence prevention plans.

The bill, however, is being opposed by the American Hospital Association and other hospital lobbies, who say that they have prevention plans already and that more work should not be put on the hospitals. Instead, the hospitals would like to see more penalties for offenders.

Right now, there are no federal laws that protect healthcare workers like there are – for example –  for airline workers.

Senate sponsors of the legislation were hoping that it could be fast tracked, but the bill has been stalled until they can figure out whether prevention or enforcement or both are the best way to combat the threat.

And we may be headed for more strain on hospital workers as daily reports of new COVID cases across the country are now three times what they were at the beginning of April. Cases are rising in nearly every state, but the Northeast and Midwest are being hit especially hard.

Hospitalizations are increasing as well; the number of COVID patients in hospitals has risen by 20 percent in the past two weeks, though those numbers are still far lower than levels seen in prior surges. 

In this context, the White House issued a warning last week that the U.S. will be increasingly vulnerable to COVID this fall and winter if new funding for vaccines and treatments don’t come through. According to the administration’s COVID coordinator, Dr. Ashish Jha, the virus is adapting to be more contagious and American’s immune protection from the virus is waning. Dr. Jha said that there could be up 100 million infections later this year.

At this point, the government has used up its COVID funding and is not placing new orders on vaccines, which may put the U.S. behind other countries if a wave were to come and more vaccines were needed. As listeners may remember, the administration requested emergency funding for COVID vaccines and treatments in March, but the request got hung up in Congress.

On a related note, it looks like the Public Health Emergency will be extended another 60 days. That pushes the PHE out until at least September.

As listeners of Monitor Mondays are aware, the extension of the PHE has an impact on a number of policies – it also reflects the fact that we’re not out of the woods yet on this pandemic.  

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