RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – The state could require additional security at hospitals under a bill the state House of Representatives recently passed almost unanimously. 

The bill comes in response to incidents of violence against healthcare workers, that has been a growing concern, especially since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

It would require hospitals with emergency departments to conduct a security risk assessment and have at least one law enforcement officer present in the emergency department or on the same campus at all times. 

“Violence against healthcare workers is growing at a crisis level,” Rep. Tim Reeder (R-Pitt) said, who is also an emergency physician. “Violence occurs throughout the hospital, but it disproportionately happens in the emergency department. This is resulting from staff shortages, mental health issues, lack of treatment facilities for mental health.” 

The North Carolina Nurses Association recently surveyed its members and found nearly half witnessed violence on the job in the last two years. Additionally, 27 percent of them said they were the victims of violence. 

“It’s a fierce urgency, and we have to speak up and do something,” Meka Douthit Ingram said, president of the NCNA. “Sadly, some people have been told, ‘oh that’s just part of the job’. It’s not part of the job.”  

While the incident did not occur in an emergency room, she pointed to the death of June Onkundi in Durham last fall when she was stabbed while on duty. 

In July, police arrested a man at Duke Raleigh Hospital who they said punched a nurse and knocked her unconscious. She suffered a broken nose and eye socket, according to police. 

Meka Douthit Ingram is concerned that incidents of violence are helping to fuel burnout among nurses. Those staffing issues are also further fueling concerns about safety among employees. 

“It’s a cycle of everything and we have to do something. We have to raise our voices. So, this is a way that we are raising our voices,” she said. 

Rep. Donny Lambeth (R-Forsyth), a former hospital executive, noted that large and mid-size hospitals already have police and security on site.  

“The ones that I would worry about are the really small rural hospitals that are already struggling. Adding the cost of an officer 24 hours a day, seven days a week could be an issue,” he said.  

Reeder also acknowledged the staffing issues that exist among law enforcement, too. The requirement to have law enforcement present would not take effect until Oct. 2024. 

The bill also establishes new requirements for hospitals to submit violence and assault data annually to the state. The Administrative Office of the Courts also would have to report to the legislature annually on the number of people charged and convicted under the law addressing assault on hospital personnel. 

Cynthia Charles, a spokesperson for the North Carolina Healthcare Association, that represents the state’s hospitals, said the organization has not taken a position on the bill. 

“We are working with legislators to address the issue and support any efforts to address the root causes of violence,” she wrote in an email. “We would like to see the issue addressed in a way that does not create another unattainable mandate on hospitals that would add to the heavy administrative and regulatory burdens they already face.”