Michigan doctors, nurses face attacks while battling COVID-19 pandemic at work

Many health care workers in Michigan and around the world are facing attacks from patients.

Katie Pontifex, a registered nurse at Sparrow Hospital in Lansing, said she was attacked by a patient in 2018.

"I personally have been one in four. I believe is the latest statistic of healthcare workers who have been injured on the job," she said.

The attack left her unable to perform her normal job duties for three months. Now, she said she's been seeing attacks, both verbally and physically, increase during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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"We will walk into a patient room and ask family to please pull up your mask while we’re here. We get a lot of pushback in that regard. There are patients who demand certain treatments we may or may not be able to provide at that given time. Those are the kinds of verbal assaults that we’re seeing a rise in locally," she said.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics said incidents have steadily increased over the past decade. Data shows that there were 611 attacks related to COVID-19 that happened during the first six months of the pandemic. One in five attacks were physical, and 15% involved fear-based discrimination. Another 15% were verbal assaults or threats.

"If you talk to almost any healthcare worker, sadly, they have a horror story about the violence that they’ve experienced on the job," said Adam Carlson, the senior vice president of the Michigan Health and Hospital Association.

The association released a series of workplace safety posters warning patients about the consequences of assaulting healthcare workers. However, while Michigan has a law protecting first responders from on-the-job attacks, it does not have one for healthcare workers.

"As of right now, we’re extremely hopeful that a bill will be introduced this session, that the state legislature can bring up and work towards passing," Carlson said.

A statement from Henry Ford Health System said it hasn’t seen an overall increase in violence against team members, but incidents do happen in response to Covid safety measures and visitation policies.