Assemblywoman Joyner Remembers the Bronx Lebanon Shooting as We Approach its First Anniversary

June 27, 2018

June 30th marks the one-year anniversary of a fatal shooting at Bronx-Lebanon Hospital in my district. One patient and multiple physicians were shot. A physician, Dr. Tracy Tam, was killed. Dr. Tam should not even have been working at Bronx Lebanon that Friday in late June of 2017. She was actually covering a shift for another colleague. My heart goes out to Dr. Tam’s family, her colleagues and to the others who were wounded that day.

This incident is a painful reminder that we must do more to ensure that all of our healthcare workers including physicians have a safe and secure work environment. We must do everything in our power to protect these professionals, who have dedicated their lives to improving the health and wellbeing of others.

That is why I have joined with my Senate colleague, Rich Funke from Rochester, to introduce legislation to make it clear that physicians are among the medical professionals who are protected under our penal law. Current law has strong protections for assaults against registered nurses, LPNs, paramedics, public health sanitarians and several other workers – but it does not include doctors. It must.

Our legislation, the Physician Protection Act, would address this glaring omission. It would make it clear in the law that licensed physicians are given the same level of protection as other healthcare professionals while also ensuring that those providing direct patient care are covered in all practice settings.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 74% of all non-fatal assaults that happen within the work place involve healthcare workers. Studies cited in a 2016 New England Journal of Medicine article on workplace violence found that 78% of emergency physicians have reported being targets of workplace violence in the prior year with 21% being physical assaults. One third of pediatric residents reported being assaulted during their training.

The 2016 New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) article also found high rates of abuse toward family physicians, primarily by patients displaying narcotic-seeking behavior. While physicians work to help those suffering from drug addictions, they should not be harmed trying to do so.

I recently held a press conference in Albany with Senator Funke, a number of medical associations including the State Academy of Family Physicians, and an Albany-based physician who was the victim of an assault in his practice two years ago. The physician, Dr. Christopher Gabriels described how on otherwise quiet day a man walked into his office, pulled out a gun and assaulted Dr. Gabriels and his father, another practicing physician. Dr. Gabriels was able to fight back and the man ran away. However, based on what the man left behind in a bag, the doctors believe he intended to seriously harm and rob them, or worse. As Dr. Gabriels said at the news conference, this violent assault has changed the way he practices medicine.

Sadly, there are stories like Dr. Gabriels and Dr. Tam that we hear across the State. And we know that hospitals, clinics and physician offices are instituting new policies and procedures to increase security and readiness like practice drills, improved communications and other measures. However, many offices do not have the financial means to hire security guards, install security systems or retrofit physical space. Instead, it is incumbent on the State to extend the same protections in law that we have in place for other healthcare professionals to physicians.

This is critical both to serve as a deterrent and also to demonstrate to physicians that we value their service. In my community, we face severe shortages of physicians in primary care and other specialties. We do not want a lack of safety and security to serve as another barrier to physicians practicing in our neighborhoods, both urban and rural.

Finally, right now the law spells out specific settings like hospitals, nursing homes and hospital emergency or surgery centers where those providing direct patient care are protected. With more and more care being provided on an outpatient basis in clinics, private offices and other ambulatory care settings, we must be sure that healthcare workers providing direct patient care are covered under the law, regardless of where they are providing such care.

These are loopholes in our law that must be closed so that those who devote their careers to the care of others receive the protections they so richly deserve. I am so proud of these local heroes who call New York home. I am looking forward to passing the Physician Protection Act this session so no physician is left less protected than their healthcare worker counterparts.