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Following death of a CT visiting nurse, US labor secretary calls for better workplace protections

Amee Bhat, OSHA Assistant Regional Administrator of Safety and Health Engagement, President of Three Rivers Community College Mary Ellen Jukoski, Congressman Joe Courtney and acting Department of Labor Secretary Julie Su listen during a workforce safety protections roundtable discussion at Three Rivers Community College in Norwich, Conn. on Friday January 26, 2024. The panel discussed ways to improve workplace safety for health care workers.
Joe Buglewicz
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Connecticut Public
Amee Bhat, OSHA Assistant Regional Administrator of Safety and Health Engagement, President of Three Rivers Community College Mary Ellen Jukoski, Congressman Joe Courtney and acting Department of Labor Secretary Julie Su listen during a workforce safety protections roundtable discussion at Three Rivers Community College in Norwich, Conn. on Friday January 26, 2024. The panel discussed ways to improve workplace safety for health care workers.

Connecticut health care workers are demanding better protections following the death of visiting nurse Joyce Grayson at a halfway house last year.

The nurses met with acting U.S. Labor Secretary Julie Su at the Nursing Lab at Three Rivers Community College in Norwich Friday, to offer input on federal legislation designed to protect health care workers from workplace violence.

The number of health care workers nationwide who reported experiencing threats and harassment by patients or others at the workplace more than doubled between 2018 and 2022, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Despite that increase, there are currently no specific OSHA standards against workplace violence. But Su said that’s going to change.

“We have started that process,” she said. “OSHA standards require several steps, and we've gone through the first one.”

Meanwhile, a bill proposed by Democratic U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney from Connecticut seeks to more quickly protect health care workers.

“It would just accelerate the rulemaking process,” he said. “Anybody who has looked at the pace of rulemaking, particularly for OSHA, it takes years to get it through.”

Courtney said when the AIDS crisis struck, Congress passed a law to accelerate the OSHA rulemaking process to protect health care workers against blood-borne pathogens.

But more still needs to be done in the realm of workplace safety standards for workers in the health care industry, he said.

Courtney’s bill had bipartisan support with close to 250 votes in the House last Congress, but it failed to make it through the Senate.

Congressman Joe Courtney:
Joe Buglewicz
/
Connecticut Public
Democratic U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney has proposed a bill seeking to more quickly protect health care workers. “It would just accelerate the rulemaking process,” he said. “Anybody who has looked at the pace of rulemaking, particularly for OSHA, it takes years to get it through.”

“You cannot get discouraged,” Courtney said. “It's too important to the people who go to work every day, and in terms of, frankly, having a sustainable health care workforce in our country.”

The Bureau of Labor Statistics' Occupational Outlook Handbook projects home health and personal care aides jobs to grow 34% from 2019 to 2029.

But workplace security is a cost-add-on for health care employers, and there is pushback.

“One of the things I like to think about when we get a lot of pushback about the costs of doing the right thing, are the costs of doing nothing, right?” Su said. “What's the cost if we don't act? And so we want to make sure that we're doing the right thing, and also very much aware of what happens when we don't do enough.”

Sherri Dayton, of AFT Connecticut, is an emergency room nurse at Backus Hospital. She requested lawmakers consider drafting legislation to stop weapons from coming into health care facilities.

“We get that there are [cost] barriers, but they're the ones that we're willing to take to keep people safe on airplanes,” Dayton said. “Why are we not willing to take them to keep people safe in hospitals?”

Funding education for health care providers is also important, Dayton said.

“We deal with people who have mental illnesses, and diagnosis that sometimes is difficult to deal with, and we deal with people on their worst days,” she said. “Not everybody just instinctively knows how to deal with those people. Every health care professional needs the training.”

Sujata Srinivasan is Connecticut Public Radio’s senior health reporter. Prior to that, she was a senior producer for Where We Live, a newsroom editor, and from 2010-2014, a business reporter for the station.

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