NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Saturday marks the end of National E.R. Nurses Week, and while the pandemic might be over, it is still a difficult time for the profession. A recent survey found nearly half of nurses reported more violence at work.

Todd Haines traded in his law enforcement uniform for nursing scrubs years ago, but he said being a nurse is more dangerous than being in law enforcement.

“I’ve been bit, I’ve been spit on, I’ve been cussed on, I’ve been threatened,” said Haines. “They’ve swung at one of us, or swung at me. I’ve had to redirect to the bed and then call for help to keep people from hurting me.”

According to Haines, mentally ill patients are a growing part of the problem, but it’s also those who are coming into the E.R. high, drunk, or just downright rude — and the pandemic didn’t help.

“The pandemic hurt us, the pandemic hurt us all in healthcare,” he said. “We went from being heroes one month, to being part of the problem.”

Surveys show the violence escalating. In 2021, 31% of nurses in the country’s largest union — National Nurses United — reported violence on the job. This year, that number shot up to 48%. Earlier this year, a patient assaulted nurses and a security guard at the St. Thomas Midtown parking garage. The charges were dropped.

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“There has to be some type of penalty to assault someone trying to help you,” said Haines.

Haines has lobbied in Washington for legislation to increase violence prevention training for healthcare workers, and record incidents. A bill has passed the House, but still needs to make its way through the U.S. Senate.

In Tennessee, there’s a push to give nurses the same status as law enforcement when attacked on the job. According to Haines, if change doesn’t happen, the nursing shortage could grow more severe.

“I got two or three very good friends who have left the bedside because of the violence,” Haines said. “The thought does cross your mind, ‘God, dog, I’m getting too old for this, and it’s not getting any better.'”

Haines wants the laws changed, but he also said every hospital should have a basic sign in the lobby that makes it clear to patients that violence will not be tolerated in the facility.