Maine lawmakers are considering a bill that could increase punishments for assaulting health care workers providing emergency medical care.

A bill proposed by state Sen. Rick Bennett, R-Oxford, would make it easier to file felony charges for assaults against emergency health care workers, something Bennett said has become common. From 2017-21, Maine health care workers filed 1,130 intentional injury lost time claims, but during the same time span, there were only 88 assault charges filed statewide and 12 assault convictions, according to state statistics.

 A hospital-trained security officer makes his rounds in 2022, at St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center in Lewiston. He is a hospital-trained security officer ready in case a “Code Gray” is called, which is triggered by violence or potentially dangerous behavior from patients or visitors. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

Incidents at Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston that required security staff to intervene increased by about a third from 2019-21, according to hospital data cited by the Sun Journal.

Bennett testified during a hearing Monday before the Legislature’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee that current law makes it too difficult to charge such assaults as a felony-level crime, and his bill would fix that too-narrow language. Bennett served on a task force that made a unanimous recommendation to change the law.

“The task force determined that the scope of (the current law) is too limited to be an effective deterrent to violence against health care workers. One clear limitation is that this statute, and its enhanced penalty, only applies when the victim is an ’emergency medical care provider’ who is injured while ‘providing emergency medical care,’ ” Bennett said. “These two elements exclude many emergency department employees as well as all health care workers in settings other than an emergency department. For example, a person in an emergency department who assaults custodial staff, security staff, or administrative staff might not be convicted of the Class C (felony) because the person injured is found not to be an ’emergency medical care provider.’”

The bill received support from the Maine Hospital Association, the Maine Chiefs of Police Association and the two largest hospital networks, MaineHealth and Northern Light Health. It is opposed by the Maine Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and other groups.


“This bill is part of a never-ending expansion to add more felony crimes on Maine’s books,” said Walter McKee, legislative committee chair for the criminal defense lawyers association. “It is apparently not enough that a person who commits assault can go to jail for up to 364 days (the maximum penalty for misdemeanor assault). It is apparently more appropriate to make these same people convicted felons and subject to prison sentences of up to five years. This very idea is anathema to our criminal justice system and society as a whole. We do not need to have more people convicted of felonies and wearing that scarlet moniker for the rest of their lives.”

But Nancijean Goudey, director of emergency services for Maine Medical Center in Portland and Urgent Care Plus, testified that the bill is needed because current law “does not apply to many situations in which our care team members are assaulted by patients, family members or visitors.”

Goudey said hospital emergency departments are seeing a significant increase in violent or threatening behavior.

“Patients and visitors to ED’s across Maine are demonstrating behaviors that are violent and intimidating toward our staff in staggering numbers,” Goudey said. “Couple this with unprecedented verbal violence, and you can understand why our staff experience daily trauma that is influencing staff to leave the bedside in record numbers.”

Committee members will vote on the bill in the coming weeks.

Related Headlines

Comments are no longer available on this story