Bill to make threats against health-care workers a felony heads to Gov. Evers’ desk

Gundersen Health System leader pushes for more safety protections for staff

LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT) — Threats of violence against health-care workers are rising, and Wisconsin lawmakers are taking new action to keep those workers safe.

They passed a bill on Tuesday to make threatening a health-care worker with violence a felony, sending the measure to Gov. Tony Evers.

La Crosse providers say the bill is long overdue.

Assembly Bill 960 is one of the numerous long slates of text read on the Senate floor. However, these words could create a better workplace for people like Clark Draxler.

“Really to protect the worker,” said Draxler, a clinical manager at Gundersen Health System in La Crosse.

Health-care settings bring obstacles every day.

“We have definitely seen tensions higher with some of our visitors and patients,” Draxler said.

The pandemic uncovered more problems for Draxler and his staff. He said they saw a 63 percent increase in violence toward health-care workers. Draxler’s team spends twice as much time on de-escalation than training for cardiopulmonary resuscitation.

“We provide significant training in verbal de-escalation,” Draxler said.

Wisconsin passed legislation a couple of years ago making physical violence against a health-care worker a felony. This bill would extend that felony to verbal threats.

“It’s not the passive threat of, ‘I’m going to report you to your manager.’ It’s the threat of ‘I’m going to send somebody to your home and find your kids, or destroy your house, or sabotage the hospital,” Draxler said.

Draxler would know he has been on the receiving end of a threat.

“More than once; many times, in my career,” Draxler said.

Two months of caring for one patient took a lot of courage and energy from Draxler.

“Every time you went in the room, there was some sort of verbal attack or verbal assault,” Draxler said. “He impacted the care of the rooms surrounding him. His neighbors could hear him yelling out at staff. He had broken multiple items in the room and thrown items at staff.”

Moments where Draxler feels powerless.

“There was very little recourse that we had,” Draxler said. “We did our best to take care of him every day.”

Trauma that leaves scars people cannot see. Assembly Bill 960 would set expectations for patient behavior so staff can do their jobs.

“Be able to give equal care to everyone instead of everyone investing time in a patient who’s acting out,” Draxler said.

Gundersen leaders say this is more about staff safety than punishment for patients..

The bill was heard on the Senate floor where 31 lawmakers agreed. The Wisconsin Hospital Association is calling for the bill to become law.

The bill advanced to Evers’ desk for his signature.

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