Nurses Push for ‘Elise's Law' to Protect Health Care Workers

A month after a Massachusetts nurse was stabbed by a patient, nearly losing her life, her husband and colleagues are pushing for a law to protect health care workers.

Elise Wilson, an emergency department nurse for 35 years, was attacked at Harrington Hospital last month by a patient she was caring for. Today, she lives, but she wears scars after being stabbed multiple times. She fought through her injuries and now she, her husband and co-workers are fighting for change.

"I almost lost her," said Clifton Wilson, Elise's husband. "I almost lost her and that's the key to the whole thing. This can't happen again."

Wilson recalls the morning he got a phone call telling him his wife had been attacked at work.

"You dread the call every day when your spouse or loved one goes to work," said Wilson. "My heart stopped."

That day, she was surrounded by co-workers who swiftly reacted to save her life, something they do for others every day.

"The stars aligned for Elise Wilson that day, and that's why this bill has to pass," said Tracy DiGregorio, a registered nurse at Harrington Hospital.

Elise's Law would require health care employers to annually perform a safety risk assessment. It would also require the development and implementation of programs to prevent violence against workers and patients.

"We have to make things safer for all of us, for all nurses, for all healthcare workers across the state," said DiGregorio.

If a worker has been assaulted the bill would also give them paid time off to deal with legal issues.

It also allows them to use their employers address on legal documents instead of their home address.

"They don't help you in the legal process at all," said Miko Nakagawa, a registered nurse at Health Alliance Hospital Leominster. "No hospital does."

Nakagawa knows the physical and legal struggle all too well. She was attacked by a patient in January.

"He shoved me so that I flew over the top of a stretcher and my left arm got caught in the handle of the stretcher," said Nakagawa. "I kind of flipped over the stretcher and landed on my right shoulder."

Nakagawa fully supports Elise's Law.

"Southbridge has metal detectors now and security checkpoints at the hospital and panic buttons that the nurses are wearing," said Nakagawa. "I think that that's a great start."

The Massachusetts Health and Hospital Association feels the bill could be an issue.

"The current proposed legislation is problematic because it would create duplication of, and in some cases conflicts with, existing processes and requirements," a statement from the association reads. "The proposed legislation could weaken safety precautions that now minimize risks for patients and healthcare personnel."

Elise's law passed the Joint Committee on Public safety and Homeland Security Wednesday.

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