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Member Takes Workplace Violence Fight to DC

AFSCME Minnesota member Eric Hesse, at a Capitol Hill press conference, called for reforms needed to prevent violence against health care workers.
By Omar Tewfik ·

Eric Hesse, an AFSCME Council 5 member and a lead security counselor at Minnesota Security Hospital in St. Peter, came to Washington, DC, last week to raise awareness about intensifying workplace violence against health care workers in his state and throughout the country.

Hesse, a victim of a brutal attack in which he nearly lost his eye, spoke at a Congressional press conference announcing the findings of a new Government Accountability Office (GAO) report that underscores the need for a clear standard for employers to ensure a safer workplace environment for health care workers.

Violence against health care workers is intensifying nationwide. According to the GAO, violence in the workplace is a serious concern for 15 million health care workers across the country. But the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the federal agency charged with the enforcement of federal safety and health laws, has failed to implement and enforce a specific standard to protect health care workers from the known hazard of workplace violence.

Without a clear standard it is difficult to compel employers to comply with their responsibilities to keep employees safe. In many states, including Minnesota, this has allowed an epidemic of workplace violence to go unaddressed.  

The Minnesota Security Hospital houses patients who are committed as mentally ill, and sex offenders. One patient with a recent history of violence assaulted Hesse, who suffered a fracture of his orbital bone and sinus damage. He received 17 stitches and his orbital bone is now replaced by fatty tissue.

But Hesse isn’t the only one who has been hurt at his facility. “I would like to say that my attack prompted changes that make the workplace safer, but that is not the case,” he said at the Capitol Hill press conference. “In 2015 alone, our facility had 183 cases of staff being assaulted by patients, a 40 percent increase from 2014.”

Violence in other facilities across the state have moved AFSCME members to action, calling on the governor to address funding and staff shortfalls.

According to the GAO report and health care workers like Hesse, these terrible incidents are both predictable and preventable. “There are common-sense measures that could prevent injuries,” said Hesse. “We need access to tools and training that are proven to prevent violent attacks against health care workers and the clients we serve.”

AFSCME President Lee Saunders said the new GAO report is a step in the right direction, but more needs to be done to protect health care workers. “Showing up to work should not mean putting your life on the line, and violence is not ‘part of the job,’” he said. “We have a duty to make all healthcare facilities safe for patients and staff by mandating and implementing a clear standard for employers to ensure a safer workplace environment.”

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