Sen. Kay Kirkpatrick, a Republican from Marietta, speaks at a committee meeting at the state Capitol on September 23. (Sarah Swetlik/Fresh Take Georgia)

Georgia’s Senate Study Committee on Violence Against Healthcare Workers has recommended new forms of reporting, training and risk assessment tactics to help protect health care workers from assault, but members agreed that new legislation is unlikely. 

LOGO for Gold Dome Debrief news stories: The shape of Georgia state in bright purple with white,all cap letters "GOLD DOME DEBRIEF" above a gold silhouette of the Georgia Gold Dome Capitol building.

While the committee’s recommendations initially included proposed changes to the Georgia code, comments from health care personnel and committee members indicated that legislation would not be the preferred approach to mitigate violent acts. 

Chairwoman Kay Kirkpatrick, a Republican from Marietta, concluded a meeting this week saying the committee would try to expand non-legislative resources, such as security measures within facilities, screening practices, and training programs. 

“Our focus here looks like it’s mostly training related, with some additional encouragement of developing these other resources,” Kirkpatrick said after hearing commentary. “It sounds like the committee is not very interested in putting this in law.” 

The committee’s recommendations include: 

  •  Potential changes to the Georgia law:
    • Expand penalties regarding aggravated battery and assault for all health care workers in a facility. Currently, these penalties vary, even if the same patient were to commit them; if acts of violence are committed against emergency personnel, they are considered a felony. But for most health care workers, assault or battery would only result in a misdemeanor. 
    • Create a separate definition of health care workers in the law.. They are considered public safety personnel, and subsequently, data about violent acts against health care workers and reporting is currently mixed with other public safety workers. 
    • Require mandatory reporting of aggravated battery and assault. 
  • Risk assessments and alerts in health care facilities: 
    • Encourage Behavioral Emergency Response Teams in health care facilities. These teams specialize in de-escalation response and behavioral emergencies. 
    • Encourage screenings for patients who are being processed to assess their risk of violence during initial processing. 
    • Establish an alert system for known violent patients. 
    • Develop quality improvement initiatives in health care facilities and require periodic risk assessments. 
  • Training: 
    • Require training for all hospital workers on interacting with violent patients and patients facing behavioral health risks. 
    • Offer annual de-escalation for all health care workers. 
    • Partner with state and local organizations on training such as self-defense. 

Throughout the meeting, other committee members and experts offered thoughts on the recommendations. The greatest opposition was in response to proposals to make reporting violent acts mandatory and increase penalties for perpetrators. 

Sen. Michelle Au, a Democrat from Johns Creek and a physician, said that mandatory reporting might discourage health care personnel from providing care to a patient with a known risk for fear of having to report any incident that might occur. 

Sen. Bo Hatchett, a Republican from Cornelia, said perpetrators would likely commit acts of violence regardless of the severity of the sentence. 

However, Deb Bailey, the executive director of government affairs at Northeast Georgia Medical Center, said that she did not understand why an assault on emergency personnel could result in a felony charge, but an assault by the same patient on a non-emergency health care worker would only be a misdemeanor. 

Health care workers Jennifer Speights from View Point Health and Kelsey Reed from Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital both said that it was most important to them that personnel have access to proactive training. 

The committee members agreed that a one-day training plan with lectures, roleplay, and other learning techniques would benefit health care workers throughout the state. Training efforts will coincide with new Joint Commission training standards, which will go into effect for all accredited hospitals beginning Jan. 1.  

For more from Fresh Take Georgia and the latest updates, follow us on Facebook and Twitter.