Colorado Gov. Jared Polis signed a law designed to prevent “doxxing” of healthcare workers.
Doxxing refers to an act that reveals private or identifying information about an individual on the internet, opening them up to harassment or intimidation.
The state Senate passed House Bill 1041 on March 4, after the House passed it Feb. 14. Mr. Polis signed the bill into law March 24.
“(The protected workers) do have a public-facing job, but just because you have a public-facing job doesn’t mean you should have threats against your family or yourself for doing the work you’ve been tasked with doing,” bill sponsor and state Rep. Andrew Boesenecker, said, according toThe Denver Post.
In 2021, Colorado banned doxxing of public health workers. That law, in part, allowed public health workers to seek redaction of their personal information from publicly available government databases, according to the Post.
The new law expands protections to include child representatives, code enforcement officers, healthcare workers, mortgage servicers, and office of the respondent parents’ counsel staff members and contractors.
Under the new law, these individuals are people “whose personal information may be withheld from the internet if the protected person believes dissemination of such information poses an imminent and serious threat to the protected person or the safety of the protected person’s immediate family.”
Personal information includes the protected person’s full name and home address.
Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers signed a bill Wednesday that makes it a felony to threaten a healthcare worker in the state, similar to laws covering police officers and other government workers.
The state already has a law making it a felony to commit battery against nurses, emergency care providers or those working in an emergency department.
“With significant workforce challenges in Wisconsin hospitals, we cannot afford to lose providers because they fear threats in the workplace,” Eric Borgerding, president of the state’s hospital association, said in a release. “Today’s new law will send a strong message to the public that threats against health care workers are taken seriously and not tolerated in Wisconsin.”
Healthcare workers have long been accustomed to both verbal and physical attacks in the workplace, often coming from distraught patients or family members.
In fact, workers in the healthcare and social service industries experience the highest rates of injuries caused by workplace violence and are five times as likely to get injured at work than workers overall, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
A recent survey from staffing firm Incredible Health found nurses believe attacks are on the rise, partially due to ongoing COVID-19 guidelines. Some 65% of nurses said they had been verbally or physically attacked by a patient or patient’s family member in the past year, the survey found.
While 52% attributed that uptick to pandemic restrictions, 47% said it’s a result of longer wait times and other issues caused by a lack of staffing.
Hospitals across the country are grappling with dire staffing shortages as burned out healthcare workers quit, retire or leave for higher-paying traveling nurse positions two years into the COVID-19 pandemic.
A recent report from the Wisconsin Hospital Association found 13 out of the 17 positions it surveyed had higher hospital vacancy rates in 2021 than the year prior, and seven of those positions had vacancy rates exceeding 10%.
“Threats against healthcare workers cause hospital staff to choose between caring for patients in the hospital or leaving the hospital altogether,” Borgerding said.
There are no federal laws that directly address violence against healthcare workers, though the Occupational Safety and Health Administration offers guidance for employers, and a handful of states have rules for employers or laws penalizing offenders.
Last April, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Workplace Violence Prevention for Health Care and Social Service Workers Act, which would make healthcare employers develop and implement comprehensive workplace violence prevention plans, provide employees with annual training, keep detailed records of violent incidents and submit annual summaries to the federal labor department. The bill has yet to pass the Senate.
Labor unions representing healthcare workers, like National Nurses United, support that legislation and say a consistent and enforceable rule is necessary.
However, NNU opposes laws like Wisconsin’s that criminalize perpetrators of violence against healthcare workers, as those who do so are often vulnerable patients, the union said in an emailed statement.
A federal appeals court has reinstated in 26 states a Biden administration vaccination mandate for health workers at hospitals that receive federal funding.
A three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans ruled(PDF) that a lower court had the authority to block the mandate in only the 14 states that had sued and was wrong to impose a nationwide injunction.
It marks a modest win for the Biden administration’s pandemic strategy following a series of legal setbacks to the health worker vaccine mandate. Numerous lawsuits have been filed seeking to block vaccine mandates issued by governments and businesses as public health measures amid a pandemic that has killed more than 800,000 Americans.
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) announced in early November that it would be requiring applicable healthcare facilities to have a policy in place ensuring that eligible staff receive their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine series by Dec. 5 and to have completed their series by Jan. 4, 2022. Failure to comply with the requirement, which covers 17 million healthcare workers, would place an organization’s Medicare funding in jeopardy.
But the mandate was blocked before the deadline and remains temporarily blocked in 24 states: the 14 states involved in the case reviewed by the New Orleans appeals court and 10 states where the mandate was blocked by a Nov. 29 ruling from a federal judge in St. Louis.
The 14 states that sued are Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Montana, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Utah and West Virginia.
In the lawsuits, states argued that CMS exceeded its authority with the rule and did not have good cause to forego the required notice and comment period. States that sued the Biden administration over the vaccine mandate also cited the ongoing workforce shortages affecting healthcare providers in their states.
In explaining its ruling, the 5th Circuit noted that the Louisiana-based federal judge had given “little justification for issuing an injunction outside the 14 states that brought this suit.”
As it stands, the vaccine requirement for Medicare and Medicaid providers is blocked by courts in about half of U.S. states but not in the other half, creating the potential for patchwork enforcement across the country.