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Nurses push for stronger penalties after stabbing at Southbridge hospital

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BOSTON - Following the serious stabbing of a nurse in a Southbridge ER, other nurses around the state are asking for tougher penalties.

"Over a 22 year career, I've been pushed to the floor, my finger broke, scratched, bitten," said Bee Potter, state president of the Emergency Nurses Association.  

The Mass Emergency Nurses Association polled its local members and asked, "in the last five days have you been verbally or physically assaulted?" More than 50 percent said yes.

The association said it's time for public awareness and change.

>>MORE: Suspect arrested after allegedly stabbing ER nurse in Southbridge

Boston 25 News spoke with local nurses and each one had either been assaulted physically or verbally by patients or had seen fellow nurses be assaulted.


Potter, a nurse at Brigham and Women's Faulkner Hospital, said a gang fight once spilled into her ER room when a gang member tried to finish the job in front of her.

Shelia Wilson, who worked in the ER at Mass Eye and Ear and Carney in Dorchester, wrote a book about violence against nurses after she almost lost her eye.

"She came all over me and she smashed my face and I got a fat lip and my teeth were almost broken," said Wilson. 

Potter, Wilson and others are hoping for passage of several bills on Beacon Hill, including one that would make an assault on emergency care providers a felony, bringing it in line with the penalties for assaulting other first responders. 

State Rep. Denise Garlick, a nurse herself, is sponsoring additional legislation that would require all health care employers to perform risk annual risk assessments and have workplace violence programs in place that are shared with staff.

"You have to implement it and the Commonwealth should hold you accountable for a safe workplace," she said. 

Rep. Garlick said her bill has been filed since 2009 and has been re-filed every year, but has never made it out of committee. She says the pushback has come from hospitals who don't want to be told what to do.

Garlick is hoping last week's stabbing at Harrington Hospital will lead to a public hearing for the bill.