OAKTON, Va. (WUSA) --- Virginia's governor is expected to sign legislation making mandatory at least two days in jail for anyone convicted of assaulting emergency room workers.
"It brings the punishment level up to the same level that the police, law enforcement receive, other first responders, EMS personnel and school teachers.
"We feel, being first responders ourselves, emergency room physicians and emergency room nurses and those who work in the emergency department, this should, in essence, level the playing field for all of us," said Dr. Peter Paganussi, an emergency room physician in Reston and a past president of the Virginia College of Emergency Physicians.
Paganussi has seen the dangers firsthand, remembering one incident at Fairfax Inova several years ago when (a) "patient became very violent, was intoxicated, lashed out, kicked my technician, unfortunately, in the side of the head and then swung his arm free and kind of clipped me off the chin and in the ear.
"We were able to subdue him but its scary when you're at work, trying to deliver health care and really you are a first responder in the emergency department and in that regard, when you're in the act of delivering this care, it's difficult to protect yourself. You don't expect that kind of behavior from someone who you're tending to," Paganussi told 9NEWS NOW.
The Associated Press quotes a recent study as concluding emergency room workers are 400 percent more likely to be assaulted than the average American worker.
Some legislators worry about creating special categories of citizens as deserving of more protection.
"There is going to come a time when we might as well list the people in the code that you can assault and have no mandatory minimum...all professions and all children are valuable, and all people are valuable," said Fairfax County Senator Chap Petersen.