Healthcare worker standing in front of a capitol building
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Senior living and other long-term care and healthcare providers would be required to create workplace violence prevention plans to protect employees under proposed bipartisan legislation.

The Workplace Violence Prevention for Health Care and Social Service Workers Act, introduced by Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and announced Wednesday, directs the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration to issue a standard requiring healthcare and social service employers to write and implement such plans.

“Healthcare workers have faced unprecedented obstacles just to stay healthy and do their jobs through the pandemic, and on top of it all, they have seen senseless violence against them,” Baldwin said in a news release. “It is unacceptable, and we must provide basic protections and safety standards to a workforce that serves people during some of their most vulnerable times.”

Baldwin said workers in the healthcare and social service industries experience the highest rates of injuries caused by workplace violence. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statics, 73% of all nonfatal injuries from workplace violence in 2018 were among healthcare workers. Those statistics, Baldwin said, suggest that workplace violence is nearing “crisis levels” for healthcare and social service workers and contributing to staffing shortages.

The legislation, she said, would encourage healthcare and social service workplaces to adopt “proven prevention techniques” and be prepared to respond to violent incidents.

“We fully support ensuring our caregivers work in a safe environment, and providers will continue to do everything they can to protect their employees from violent incidents,” a spokeswoman for the American Health Care Association / National Center for Assisted Living told McKnight’s Senior Living. 

A 2019 study found that violence against long-term care staff members had become “normalized,” affecting worker morale and health, as well as quality of life for residents. The authors suggested that their findings could help inform prevention strategies for senior living communities around the world, including increased training and resources, funding, staffing levels, public awareness, and legal and regulatory measures.

A 2016 Government Accountability Office report recommended that OSHA better protect workers in residential care settings from workplace violence by assisting its inspectors in developing citations, following up on warnings and assessing its results. The GAO reiterated this recommendation as a “priority” that fall in issuing new resources to key federal departments and agencies.

In March, Baldwin’s home state of Wisconsin made it a felony to threaten or attack senior living and other healthcare workers. Wisconsin Act 209 broadened workplace protections for healthcare providers and healthcare facility staff, and their families, and increased the penalty for a threat of battery against healthcare professionals.

Baldwin’s bill is supported by 26 fellow senators.