Bill to boost health care worker safety withdrawn

Legislation to strengthen violence prevention standards at health care facilities across the state has been withdrawn in the Senate — ending its chances for passage in Annapolis this session.

Sen. Katherine Klausmeier, a Baltimore County Democrat and the bill's sponsor, said she submitted a withdrawal letter to the finance committee Monday after stakeholders representing nursing homes and assisted living facilities expressed concerns that it would not leave room for individualized approaches to dealing with violence in varying clinical environments.

"There were just so many different ways of providing safety, so we decided to just withdraw the bill," Klausmeier said. Klausmeier has asked all those involved in the process, including workers' unions and the Maryland Hospital Association, which all supported the bill, to continue to work on the issue through the summer.

"I told them all to work on it," she said. "The bottom line is we want to keep employees safe and we want to keep patients safe."

The bill would have required public and private facilities to improve safety by establishing violence-prevention committees consisting of management and employees; establish a violence-prevention program; produce annual violence assessments and provide regular workplace violence training for employees.

It was based on concerns that health care workers are disproportionately the victims of workplace violence in Maryland.

A fiscal note attached to the bill had estimated costs would be nearly $115,000 in 2014 and more each subsequent year, in part because of the need for the Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation to hire two new employees to enforce the new regulations proposed.

Del. Tom Hucker, who cross-filed a similar bill in the House, said he was disappointed that Klausmeier had pulled her version. He said he was also frustrated that nursing home representatives had stood in the bill's way.

"I'm disappointed that the nursing home chains chose to focus on defeating the bill rather than working together to improve their terrible worker safety record," Hucker wrote in an email. Hucker cited statistics he obtained from the Service Employees International Union that found nursing homes are more violent than hospitals, and said they should not be exempt from future legislation applying to hospitals. He supports continued dialogue on the issue.

Nursing care and assisted living representative organizations said they already have extensive standards and protocols for dealing with workplace violence that are tailored to the individual environments where they care for patients and residents.

Danna Kauffman, vice president of public policy for LifeSpan, which represents nursing care and assisted-living facilities, said she and other opponents of the bill are "always willing to come to the table" to discuss workplace safety.

Joseph DeMattos, president of the Health Facilities Association of Maryland, an organization representing skilled nursing and rehabilitation centers that opposed the bill, said in an email that his group looks forward "to better identifying what's working and not working in various settings in health care and among other Maryland employers and to identify additional policies or procedures that will make a difference."

krector@baltsun.com

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