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Task force studying violence in health care settings hears from prosecutors and law enforcement

The Maine Hospital Association says that 70% of workplace violence is committed against healthcare workers, and the approach to prosecuting those responsible needs to change.

The state task force studying violence against healthcare workers heard from prosecutors and law enforcement Thursday. Among the requests of healthcare providers is to elevate a violent assault against a healthcare worker from a misdemeanor to a felony. But Assistant District Attorney Frayla Tarpinian said she can build a strong criminal case using multiple misdemeanors from a repeat offender that results in more severe punishment.

"It's another way to elevate these offenses higher than a straight assault or class c assault. The advantage of that is longer probation time and jail sentences that go with that regularly," Tarpinian said.

Augusta police chief Jared Mills said police can remove a violent patient from a hospital and charge them with a misdemeanor assault. He said felony charges need detailed documentation from the victim and other details that do not get addressed when the attack occurred.

MaineHealth Corporate Counsel Jim Bailinson told the task force that the current statute needs to be expanded to cover hospital workers as well.

"I think it's important for the state to send a sign that it's important to protect healthcare workers more broadly, so MaineHealth advocates for this statute to apply to other hospital settings and outpatient care as well," Bailinson said.

The task force voted to recommend expanding the statute to cover workers in hospital emergency departments, but not in other units or outpatient settings. Their recommendations to the legislature will also include best practices for healthcare providers, law enforcement and prosecutors, such as standardized documentation for violent incidents and keeping victims informed about their cases.

The task force will present its recommendations to the legislature next month.