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EDITORIAL: Ensuring safety for health care workers

It’s clear the recent killing of a visiting nurse in Willimantic was preventable. For some who work in the growing home health care sector, the death was also not surprising. 

As family, friends and co-workers mourn Joyce Grayson, lawmakers and home health care advocates need to act with all speed to avert violence against those who perform such a crucial role.

The 63-year-old was making a home visit to a halfway house for convicted sex offenders the morning she was killed. Michael Reese, 38, a resident of the halfway house, had been released on probation for a first-degree sexual assault conviction, Hearst CT reported.

Despite the growth in the home care industry, it “remains largely unregulated, leaving both workers and patients at risk,” The Connecticut Mirror reported. The number of home health and personal care aides in the state nearly doubled, to 38,000, between 2011 and 2021.  

The data about registered nurses and licensed practical nurses providing home care is more specific. Of the 44,000 RNs and LPNs actively practicing in Connecticut, about 9.3% provided home care, according to the CT Data Collaborative in 2020,

“Our nurses are fearful of their lives. Our companions, our personal care aids our social workers, they are scared, we need to give them a safe environment,” said Tracy Wodatch, president and CEO of the Connecticut Association for Healthcare at Home, in an article that appeared in the Hartford Courant. “Our hearts go out to Joyce Grayson and the hero and legacy that she is and will leave behind.”

Legislators and health care workers, including Wodatch, met at the state capitol recently to advocate for increased health care workplace safety.   

First, we hope that every home health care organization in Connecticut has a system for notifying workers when potential clients are convicted of a violent crime. The state should also double check that every organization that has such a system is working. Wodatch called for wearable security devices for visiting nurses that they can use to push a button and call for help in emergencies, the Courant reported. That sounds very necessary and doable. 

No health care worker should be sent alone to the address of anyone convicted of a violent crime. Advocates suggest that the legislature require some kind of escort to these calls.  

Other suggestions include better transparency about all patients’ criminal records, self defense training, and an in-person review of safety plans for all home care organizations.  Of course, the privacy of clients needs to be considered. But if a health care organization is providing home service, workers safety cannot take a back seat. If that means more information about potential clients needs to be released, so be it.         

A terrible, preventable tragedy occurred in Willimantic. It could have happened in any Connecticut community. It is now for state lawmakers and the administration of Gov. Lamont to make sure the tragedy is not repeated.          



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