ATLANTA – A state Senate study committee called on Monday the General Assembly to consider harsher penalties for violent attacks on health care workers in Georgia.

But new laws to address the issue are unlikely as criminal justice experts believe the existing law already covers workplace violence in the healthcare sector, said Senator Kay Kirkpatrick, R-Marietta, chair of the study committee and orthopedic surgeon.

“There are already penalties for grievous bodily harm and grievous bodily harm,” she said. “I cannot promise that laws will come into effect or pass when they are proposed.”

The Senate formed the study committee amid a nationwide increase in violence against healthcare workers since the coronavirus pandemic earlier last year.

A study by the US Occupational Safety and Health Agency published in April 2020 found that around 50% of all victims of workplace violence are employed in the healthcare sector.

The study committee final report, which Kirkpatrick presented on Monday, encouraged hospital officials, health workers and other hospital staff to train on how to de-escalate potentially violent confrontations and defend themselves when necessary.

But dr. Mohak Davé, an emergency doctor at Northeast Georgia Health Systems and a member of the study committee, said the report didn’t go far enough.

While the state’s current laws address attacks on medical workers in emergency situations, he said there was no protection for workers in other areas of hospitals.

“This is not just an emergency room problem,” he said.

“All of our healthcare workers should be protected,” added Kelsey Reed, a nurse at Phoebe Primary Care in Albany who is also on the study committee.

Davé proposed changing the committee’s report to suggest lawmakers increase penalties for attacks on health care workers, and the panel unanimously approved the change.

The final report of the committee will be presented to the entire Senate in good time for the 2022 General Assembly beginning next month.

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a Georgia Press Educational Foundation project.