ATLANTA – A veteran nurse who was allegedly attacked by a violent patient was one of several speakers Thursday before a state Senate study committee formed to look into violence against health-care workers.  

“I was attacked by a patient who had already attacked one of our technicians,” a nurse who identified herself only as Destiny, said. “While I was trying to de-escalate the situation, the patient lunged at me, grabbed my hair and twisted it in her hands. I was punched and kicked several times; I was bit; and she tried to drag me into the bathroom.”  

Destiny, who works at Northeast Georgia Health System’s Braselton location, said it took five nurses and three security guards to restrain the patient. She said she suffered a back injury, multiple scratches and bruises, and weeks of headaches and anxiety as a court date nears.  

“I’ve been asked multiple times, am I sure I want to press charges,” she said. “The patient and her family have requested my home address, and now they know where I am. I work 12- and 14-hour shifts, and I have a son and daughter who are sometimes home alone.  

“We are here to take care of patients,” she said. “We are not here to be harmed.”  

According to a study from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, health-care workers account for approximately 50% of all victims of workplace violence.  

But Deborah Bailey, executive director of government affairs at Northeast Georgia Medical Center, told the committee 75% of all workplace assaults in the U.S. involve health-care workers.   

“Only 30% of nurses and 26% of physicians actually report those incidents,” Bailey said. “Violent altercations are so common now that most employees consider them just part of the daily job.”  

Workers in health-care settings are four times more likely to be assaulted than workers in private industry, according to the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations.

“Alarmingly, the actual number of violent incidents involving health care workers is likely much higher because reporting is voluntary,” the commission stated. 

Kevin August, a veteran former police officer and FBI official and now director of security at Grady Memorial Hospital, said any legislation addressing attacks on health-care workers must come with enforcement powers.   

“Training and more staffing are imperative, but if police aren’t enforcing the laws and judges aren’t punishing it, this problem will never be solved,” he said.  

Lindsey Caulfield, chief marketing and experience officer at Grady, said health care is the fastest-growing industry in the nation, and health-care and social service workers are five times more likely to suffer violent workplace injuries than other workers.  

“Eighty percent of these workplace violence incidents in healthcare settings are patient on provider,” Caulfield said.   

Anna Adams of the Georgia Hospital Association (GHA), said rising cases of violence are occurring throughout the state, not just metro Atlanta.   

“The pandemic has highlighted our major workforce shortage,” she said. “These types of attacks are often covered under worker’s comp, and figures show 22% of these claims are filed due to injuries inflicted by a patient, a member of a patient’s family, or a co-worker.”

Dr. Kathleen Toomey, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Public Health, said stresses brought on by the pandemic, coupled with easy access to social media, are also factors.  

“One nurse who was involved in an attack had her home address posted on social media, where the public was invited to harass her,” Toomey said. “At one north Georgia mobile vaccination site, the staff were heckled and intimidated to such a degree they were forced to close the site.” 

Adams said a GHA survey shows most Georgia hospitals see violence against healthcare workers from mentally ill patients or patients suffering from behavioral health issues. 

State lawmakers passed a resolution creating the study committee earlier this year. Its mission is to look into the problem of violence against health workers in the state.

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.