The Senate Committee on Health and Human Services approved House Bill 383, the Safer Hospitals Act, in its meeting Wednesday. The bill calls for stronger protections to ensure the safety of emergency health care workers and health care workers in a hospital setting.

Republican Rep. Matt Reeves from District 99 in Duluth explained to the committee that the bill “will allow you to protect those who care for us at the hospital.”

The Safer Hospitals Act is broken down into two parts, with the first granting hospitals to establish a hospital campus police department similar to those of colleges.

Part 2 of the bill makes sure that hospital employees outside of the emergency room have the same protections from attacks that hospital emergency room employees, teachers, transit drivers, paramedics, and law enforcement have.

“That’s to make sure that people who are performing duties at the hospital, whether they’re in the emergency room or on other parts of the hospital campus performing health care, are fully protected under Georgia law, just like several other categories of employees,” Reeves said to the committee.

Though hospitals like Mercer University and Emory University have their own police departments on location, others including Piedmont Atlanta and Northside are in need of more hospital security, which Reeves says the bill will grant.

“There are a large number of hospitals that do not have the legal ability to have POST-certified offices on their campus so that’s what this bill allows,” Reeves said, referring to peace officers with a certification in Peace Officer Standards and Training.

The committee heard testimonies for the support of the bill from a representative of the Georgia Alliance of Community Hospitals, two criminal defense lawyers and a Georgia nurse.

According to the American Nurses Association, 1 in 4 nurses have been assaulted at work.

Terry Sullivan is with the Georgia Nurses Association and an emergency room nurse who shared with the committee her story of being assaulted while on the job.

“I took care of a patient whose chief complaint was ‘I need comfort,’” Sullivan said. “He was agitated by how long he had to wait to get a psychiatric bed because they didn’t want to admit him. He came out of the room, punched me in the chest, proceeded to run to the nurses station, grab his physician amongst many people that were at the nurses stations by the shirt, raise up his fist, getting ready to punch the doctor.”

But although she was attacked by an unsatisfied patient, Sullivan informed the committee in her experience, she said that patients are are typically not the ones to assault health care workers in a hospital setting.

“We have signs up all over the hospital saying that [assault] is a felony charge and that we don’t tolerate violence against health care workers,” she said. “It still happens regularly, and ironically it happens as much with visitors and family members as it does with patients striking the staff.”

In his final statements, Reeves explained that the Safer Hospitals Act will greatly help health care workers in facilities in Southwest Georgia, Northeast Georgia, Middle Georgia and Atlanta that currently don’t have the ability to have POST-level certified peace officers on their campus.

The bill now awaits a final vote from the Senate floor before it can be singed into Georgia law by Gov. Brian Kemp.