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Pennsylvania’s House of Representatives unanimously passed a bill that could help protect health care workers from assaults.

House Bill 1219 adds health care workers to a list of protected individuals in the event of an assault, raising the penalty for the assault from a misdemeanor to a felony. The bill, which passed Feb. 10 with a vote of 177-0, would cover doctors, residents, nurses, nurse aids, paramedics and hospital security.

“Sponsored by Rep. Judy Ward, R-Blair, the bill raises the penalty from a second-degree misdemeanor to a felony,” said Dr. Scott Shapiro, president of the Pennsylvania Medical Society, in a news release. “Periodically, our health care professionals are dealing with individuals and families that are in high-stress situations, and occasionally that unfortunately leads to an act of violence against those trying to help.”

In February alone there were two cases in York County in which suspects allegedly assaulted hospital employees.

Police say a Springettsbury Township man repeatedly punched a York Hospital employee on Feb. 7 as the employee was attempting to help him. Jakub Angus Grimek, 19, of 144 N Findlay St., now is charged with aggravated assault, simple assault and harassment, according to court documents.

On Feb. 14, Heather Michele Hall was on her way to York County's central booking unit to face child endangerment charges when she complained about pain and demanded to be taken to York Hospital, police said. There, Hall allegedly spit on a hospital security officer and continually called a black security officer a racial epithet, documents state. In addition to the child endangerment charges, Hall is facing one count of aggravated assault on a police officer, as well as the misdemeanors of simple assault, resisting arrest and disorderly conduct.

House Bill 1219 could act as a deterrent and help protect hospital workers from such treatment by patients or their family members.

Brett Marcy, a spokesman for WellSpan Health, which owns York Hospital, said the bill is paramount for making sure health care providers, as well as patients, are protected.

“Anything that supports the safety of our staff members is something we support,” Marcy said. “It’s also supported by the Hospital and Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania.”

Marcy said there is 24-hour security in the main hospitals, but the bill could act as another deterrent for possible assaults on health care workers.

“Our employees and physicians should feel safe when they come to work,” he said. “This would give them an extra sense of security.”

Memorial Hospital has its own regulations in place to protect healthcare providers, said spokesman Jason McSherry.

“Memorial Hospital reviews and adapts its protocols and procedures to calm a situation that is beginning to escalate and to reduce the likelihood of injury to a healthcare provider,” he said.

Memorial Hospital supports the bill, which was referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee on Feb. 12.

“The passage of House Bill 1219 is a step forward in protecting the safety of all health care workers,” McSherry said. “Sometimes when facing a difficult health care situation, emotions, fear and stress can overwhelm patients and other visitors. This bills seeks to decrease instances of violence across the state and protect the safety of those individuals who are trying to help those in need.”

— Reach Katherine Ranzenberger at kranzenberger@yorkdispatch.com.

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