Increase in Emergency Room Violence Calls For Heightened Punishments

Violence in the emergency room has steadily increased and hinders the safety of health care professionals across the country. According to the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP), in 1995 the greatest number of physical assaults (384) taking place in hospitals occurred in the emergency room.

Most recently, the North Carolina General Assembly amended SL 2011-356, which elevates assault on emergency personnel from a misdemeanor to a felony. In accordance with Resolution 8: Emergency Room/In Hospital Violence (password required to view) presented at the 2011 House of Delegates, the NCMS will educate its members about the heightened charge.

If a person does any of the following they are guilty of a felony instead of a misdemeanor:

  • Cause physical injury to those who are discharging or attempting to discharge their official duties as an emergency medical technician or other emergency health care provider;
  • Cause physical injury to a medical responder or firefighter;
  • Or cause physical injury to emergency personnel, including physicians, physician assistants, nurses, and licensed nurse practitioners.

Furthermore, unless a person’s conduct is covered under some other provision of law providing greater punishment, if the person inflicts serious bodily injury or uses a deadly weapon other than a firearm, the felony that they are charged with increases from a Class I felony to a Class H felony. SL 2011-356 also applies to law enforcement officers.

ACEP attributes the increase in emergency room violence to circumstances such as patients waiting extended periods of time to receive care, the increase of alcohol and drug use within society, as well as the unavailability of acute psychiatric treatment outside emergency departments. Click here for information about emergency room violence as well as tips on how to decrease the number of violent occurrences in an emergency setting.


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