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Healthcare Safety Bill Signed in Massachusetts

BOSTON - After failing year after year, a bill that lengthens jail sentences for people who attack health-care workers has been signed into law.

"This is such a great thing," said Sheila Wilson, a registered nurse from Quincy who watched Gov. Deval Patrick sign the bill Friday. "People are finally taking health-care violence seriously."

The measure, approved by the House and Senate earlier this year, establishes 90 days as the minimum term of imprisonment and allows sentences of up to 2½ years for assaulting front-line health-care workers. Also allowed are fines of up to $5,000.

The bill repeatedly stalled on Beacon Hill over the years.

According to a 2007 report from Norfolk County District Attorney William Keating's office, nurses and other personal-care workers are assaulted 12 times more often than people in other professions.

"This law gives us the tools to further protect the many health-care professionals who work tirelessly to ensure the care of all commonwealth residents," Patrick said in a statement.

Wilson, a nurse at Caritas Carney Hospital in Dorchester, began pushing for passage of the bill following a spate of attacks in Carney's emergency room in 2008.

"I've been punched, spit on, urinated on," Wilson told The Patriot Ledger at the time.

The Massachusetts Nurses Association and the Service Employees International Union were among those pushing for the bill's passage.

The heightened sentencing guidelines had been in place for assaults on emergency medical technicians, but the bill extends the law to include registered nurses, physical and occupational therapists and others.

Although the bill mandates a minimum sentence of 90 days or a fine of $500, judges still have the option of suspending sentences.
 



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