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Assaulting a nurse will soon be a felony in Tennessee

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Posted at 5:30 PM, Jun 24, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-24 19:40:07-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Assaulting a nurse on the job will soon be a felony after Gov. Bill Lee signed the measure into law Thursday.

It's no secret to nurses, it's risky to do the job.

A hospital can be a high-stress environment and nurses are in close contact with patients who are sick, injured and distraught.

But according to Julie Hamm, with Tennessee Nurses Association, assaulting your caregiver is unacceptable.

"Nursing is a very challenging, difficult job already and we really don't need assault added into our daily work as hard as it is," she said. "It's really stressful for nurses and just having this bill added just adds an additional layer of protection to nurses and one that should be there as we're working hard."

The bill, SB 19, changes the penalty for assault on a nurse from a misdemeanor to a Class C Felony. It goes into effect on July 1.

The nurses association had to convince lawmakers to pass the law. So, they brought in a nurse, Jimmy Closser, with a story of his assault.

"In 2015, I was taking care of three patients in the emergency department," said Closser to a state house committee. "I had two critical patients, one that was less critical, I was helping the patient request to get up and use the restroom. When I entered I was detaching some of the IV tubing and all of the sudden out of nowhere I was punched multiple times in the face I was then grabbed by my lanyard which unfortunately wasn't a detachable lanyard and I had my stethoscope around my neck. So, both of those things pulled me down, we went down to the bed and increased the tightness around my neck. The patient kept saying 'I want to kill you, I hope you effing die.'"

It clearly worked, as the Democrat-lead push was signed by Gov. Lee.

Supporters hope this will act as a deterrent to people attacking nurses.

"Several nurses that I've heard stories about have actually been stabbed with pens, choked with wires, we have a lot of wires, a lot of equipment in our hospitals that patients can pick up and use against us in our hospitals, unfortunately," said Hamm.

Hamm said injuries or mental stress can cause nurses to take time off to recover. She said hospitals, such as Vanderbilt, typically take assault very seriously and will pursue attackers legally.