Violence Prevention in Health Care Facilities

September 9, 2009

On December 17, 2007, the New Jersey Legislature enacted the “Violence Prevention in Health Care Facilities Act,” N.J.S.A. 26:2H-5.17 et seq. (the “Act”). The Act was signed into law on January 3, 2008 with a timetable for covered health care facilities to establish violence prevention programs and plans for the benefit of health care workers as well as patients and visitors. According to the legislative statements accompanying the Act, the law was enacted to counter what the Legislature deems to be an unacceptable level of violence in the health care workplace today. Health care facilities covered by the Act are general or special hospitals or nursing homes licensed by the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services, State and county psychiatric hospitals, and State developmental centers. The Act defines “violence” or a “violent act” as any physical assault, or any physical or credible verbal threat of assault or harm, against a health care worker. Within 6 months, by July 3, 2008, each health care facility was required to establish a violence prevention program containing at least a violence prevention committee that includes a member of management to oversee the entire program. At least half of the members of the committee must be health care workers who have contact with patients, while the rest of the committee members must have experience, expertise or responsibility relevant to violence prevention. Within 18 months, by July 3, 2009, each committee was required to develop and maintain a detailed, written violence prevention plan that identifies workplace risks as well as methods to address them. The plan must include an annual comprehensive violence risk-assessment detailing the various factors that play a role in the level of risk of violence, such as the facility’s layout, alarm devices, review of violence related records and violence prevention policies. Each facility’s plan should be custom tailored to address its own risks and needs. The facility must make a copy of the plan available, upon request, to the Commissioners of the Departments of Health and Senior Services and Human Services for on-site inspection, and upon request, to each health care worker and collective bargaining agent that represents health care workers at the facility. However, if the violence prevention committee determines that the plan contains information that would pose a threat to security if made public, the facility may exclude that information before providing copies to workers or collective bargaining agents. The Act also requires annual violence prevention training as well as the employment of personnel with sufficient training to appropriately identify and handle risks and incidents of violence. In the event of a violent act, the law requires that the health care facility keep, and make accessible to all the health care workers, their authorized representatives and the Department of Health, a detailed record of the violent act for at least 5 years. Additionally, each facility is required to establish a post-incident response system in order to provide support and counseling to victims of violence. The Act prohibits any form of retaliatory action against health care workers who report incidents of violence. For more information, please contact Celia S. Bosco. This alert is provided for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended and should not be construed as legal advice. It is recommended that readers not rely on this publication but that professional advice be sought for individual matters.