BOISE -- A bill passed this session makes it a felony to assault a health care worker, and people who break the new law can serve up to three years in prison.
Joan Porcaro is the regional director for risk management and patient relations for Saint Alphonsus Health System.
"I actually started my career 30 years ago as an emergency room trauma nurse, and this is something that has been important to me for some time now," said Porcaro.
Porcaro said there are a lot of factors in a hospital that could make a patient upset. While the injuries nurses and doctors sustain from a violent patient are normally not fatal, she said they create a high-stress environment.
"I think a lot of times we want to remember that our hospital environment is really for healing and safety for everyone -- our patients, their guests, our nursing staff and our physicians," Porcaro said. "And being able to create that environment, and not tolerate violence against the workers is an important thing."
Senate Bill 1351 protects health care workers against patients who would want to do them harm because they are angry, under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or are seeking drugs. This makes assault or battery against a health care worker a felony, rather than a misdemeanor, punishable by up to three years in prison.
"I think it may deter someone from reacting, and working with us a little bit better on problem solving if there are concerns, and I think the nurse herself or himself will basically feel that their role is important and is recognized," said Porcaro.
Originally, the bill aimed to have offenders face up to five years in prison, but when that didn't make it through the legislature they revised it to a maximum of three years in prison.