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Stronger penalties sought for assaulting hospital workers, firefighters

During his law enforcement career, Rep. Matt Grossell (R-Clearbrook) said there were times he would drop off someone whom he had just physically struggled with at a hospital, whose medical personnel didn’t have training for such situations nor have the necessary equipment should the person act out.

“It was always something in the back of my mind I didn’t like to do, but because I got called away to another call, it’s what I had to do,” he told the House Public Safety and Security Policy and Finance Committee Thursday.

Grossell sponsors HF1481 that would toughen penalties for someone who assaults firefighters or certain medical personnel. Held over for possible omnibus bill inclusion, it has no Senate companion.

“It’s a matter of taking care of people who take care of us,” he said.

The bill would:

  • expand the class of protected persons from just emergency room personnel to all medical workers in a hospital;
  • make it a felony to intentionally throw or transfer bodily fluids or feces onto a firefighter or medical provider who works in a hospital;
  • create a gross misdemeanor penalty for a physical assault on a firefighter or medical provider working in a hospital that does not cause demonstrable bodily harm; and
  • increase the maximum prison time from two to three years and increase the maximum fine from $4,000 to $6,000 for someone who assaults a firefighter or medical provider who works in a hospital when the assault causes demonstrable bodily harm.

Liz Engum, a nurse at Sanford Bemidji Medical Center, and Peggy Hoeft, a retired nurse from Abbott Northwestern Hospital, spoke in support of the bill.

During testimony on HF1481, Peggy Hoeft talks about being assaulted by a patient. Sponsored by Rep. Matt Grossell, left, it'd enhance penalties for assaults on firefighters and medical personnel. Liz Engum also spoke for the bill. Photo by Paul Battaglia

“Every day I and fellow nurses are placed in situations that may become violent,” Engum said before telling the story of a co-worker who suffered a torn rotator cuff at the hands of an overdose patient who turned violent.

“I, myself, have been involved in, or witnessed, patients spitting on, hitting, scratching or kicking nurses,” she said. “These actions were committed by patients who verbalized or had the intent to cause harm. … If there was increased penalties and public awareness it would force patients to reconsider their behaviors.”

Hoeft added that she experienced violence toward her “numerous times” during a 30-year career, “none of which should be considered part of my job.”

As an emergency responder, Rep. Jim Newberger (R-Becker) has seen partners get teeth knocked out and be assaulted in the back of an ambulance. He once had someone say they had tuberculosis and spit in his face. “Of all of these cases, I can tell you nothing happened,” he said. 

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