- Associated Press - Monday, January 26, 2015

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - Someone who assaults a health care worker or attacks one with excrement, urine, blood or other bodily fluids would be guilty of a felony, under a measure mulled by lawmakers on Monday.

It’s already a felony under North Dakota law to assault law enforcement, correctional workers, court officials, firefighters and other emergency workers. The crime is punishable by up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

Courtney Koebele, executive director of the North Dakota Medical Association, told the Senate Judiciary Committee that assaults against medical providers are increasing, and they should be included under the law.

“This will send a clear message that we are serious about protecting the professionals who make it their life’s work to protect others,” she said.

Republican Sen. Dick Dever, of Bismarck, is the primary sponsor of the bipartisan legislation. He said the bill would protect medical workers and appropriately punish those who assault them.

“Some people don’t know what it’s like to live in civilized society,” Dever said. “They’re nasty.”

Patients with mental health conditions would be exempt under the proposal, he said.

“This is for people who know what they are doing and they do it,” Dever said.

Dr. Tyler Price, a Bismarck emergency room physician, told the committee that “we do not believe that being assaulted should be considered just part of the job or the risk we take.”

Price also said the state is seeing an increase in the number of “workers being bitten, spit on, body fluid thrown at them, kicked and being strangled.” Price said he recently had a patient who “impinged my airway for a brief moment in time.”

The unruly patient also pulled out an intravenous tube, causing blood to splatter. Price said he and another doctor and four nurses were able to subdue the patient until police arrived, about 20 minutes later.

“He was a big guy, but his intoxication level gave us the upper hand,” Price said.

Drug abuse, alcohol intoxication and patients demanding narcotics are some of the primary reasons for an increase in assaults on medical workers, Price said.

Tammy Buchholz, an obstetrics and gynecology nurse, said nurses in her field also are seeing an increase in assaults. They have been “spit on and hands have been laid on them,” she said.

“The threat of violence undermines recruiting and retention efforts,” she said.

The committee took no action on it Monday. It will be debated by the full Senate later.

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