Who Protects Doctors from the Patients? Illinois Steps in with a New Law

Post Authored by Laura Wibberley

Hospital employees are four times more likely to be a victim of workplace violence than those in other industries.[1] This violence can include verbal abuse and even physical assault from patients, patient’s family members, intruders, or even coworkers.[2] Unfortunately, nurses and technicians face the brunt of this violence. As highlighted in many recent media reports, many medical staff members have reported being verbally abused and physically assaulted especially those who work in emergency departments and mental health units.[3]

This prevalence of violence may be the result of several factors, including the fact that hospitals provide care to patients suffering from a mental illness, a history of violence, or alcohol/substance abuse.[4] Hospitals may also have unique organizational risk factors such as staffing shortages, inadequate security, and overcrowded waiting rooms.

Nurses, physicians, and other medical professionals work at all hours to protect and care for their patients, but who protects them from the patients?

Illinois proposed a solution. The Health Care Violence Prevention Act, 210 ILCS 160/1, et seq.  recently went into effect in Illinois and aims to decrease workplace violence in the hospital setting.[5]

The Act delineates procedures and guidelines for healthcare facilities to follow in order to protect the safety of healthcare workers. First, the law mandates reporting for acts of violence, while also encouraging reporting by providing protection for whistleblowers and management. For example, all health care employees are required to report acts of violence to his/her employer within three days after contacting law enforcement or filing a report.[6]

Additionally, the Act requires warnings to be displayed within healthcare settings.  These signs are to state “verbal aggression will not be tolerated” and that “physical assault will be reported to law enforcement.”[7] As such, the Act serves to proactively prevent violent outbreaks against hospital employees. Further, and most importantly, the Act requires all health care providers to create and implement Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) workplace violence prevention programs.[8] Though, the details of exactly how these programs are to be conducted are still not clear. Encouragingly, the Act even provides remedies for victims of workplace violence. Under the Act, health care providers must offer immediate assistance to victims of workplace violence, including acute treatment and access to psychological evaluations.[9]

Hopefully, this Act will work to change the landscape to improve hospitals and other medical facilities as a safe and thriving workplace setting.

[1] OSHA Guidelines for Preventing Workplace Violence for Healthcare and Social Services Workers, U.S. Department of Labor – Occupational Safety and Health Administration No. 3148-06R (2016) (Collecting data from 2012 through 2013).

[2] Work Place Violence in Healthcare – Understanding the Challenge, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Safety and Health Administration, No. 3826, https://www.osha.gov/Publications/OSHA3826.pdf. (Indicating 80% of all healthcare setting workplace violence threats are from patients).

[3]  Executive Summary – American Nurses Association Health Risk Appraisal, American Nurses Association 2017 (Oct. 2013–Oct. 2016), https://www.nursingworld.org/~4aeeeb/globalassets/practiceandpolicy/work-environment/health–safety/ana-healthriskappraisalsummary_2013-2016.pdf.  (Revealing  25 percent of nurses reported being physically assaulted at work by a patient or patient’s family member).

[4] See OSHA Guidelines for Preventing Workplace Violence for Healthcare and Social Service Workers, supra note 1.

[5] See 210 ILCS 160/1, et seq. (West 2016).

[6] See 120 ILCS 160/15(a) (West 2016).

[7] See 120 ILCS 160/15(c) (West 2016).

[8] See 120 ILCS 160/20 (West 2016).

[9] See 120 ILCS 160/15(d) (West 2016).

About the Author:


Laura Wibberley was recently admitted to practice law in the state of Illinois. She concentrates her practice in the areas of medical malpractice and health care defense. Laura received her J.D. from The John Marshall Law School in 2017, where she graduated Valedictorian and summa cum laude.  While in law school, Laura was a student publications editor of the John Marshall Law Review and an associate justice board member of the Moot Court Honor Society. She received the CALI award in Evidence, Civil Procedure, and Contracts. She previously externed with The Honorable Robert E. Gordon of the First District Appellate Court of Illinois where she assisted with the research and drafting of several published opinions. Prior to law school, Laura worked as a senior paralegal for the Chicago Transit Authority in the civil litigation division where she actively participated in over twenty jury trials.


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