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The emergency department at Trident Medical Center in North Charleston. A bill proposed in the state Legislature would increase the penalty for attacking a health care worker by upping the charge to assault and battery of a high and aggravated nature. File/Grace Beahm Alford/Staff

Melody Emory stood before a Statehouse committee and told them how a man she had known for less than 10 minutes slammed her head against a hospital wall.

Emory, who is a nurse supervisor for Greenville Health System, said the incident happened in 2011. The 34-year-old man wound up in the emergency department after he was in a car crash.

When Emory promised the man she would make some calls for him and got up to leave his hospital room, he became volatile. He told Emory he would kill her.

As it turned out, the man suffered from a mental illness.

"I went to school to be a nurse and a caregiver, not to be a victim of violence," Emory testified Wednesday.

Yet many health care workers are subjected to violence at some point, especially those who work in emergency settings. A bill proposed in the state Legislature would increase the penalty for attacking a health care worker by upping the charge to assault and battery of a high and aggravated nature.

Currently the charges could vary.

Firefighters, emergency room physicians and nurses, and EMTs are among the kinds of workers who would be protected by the bill.

Several other health care workers testified about their experiences with violence, as well. The Senate panel that heard the testimony was split in their support of the bill.

Sen. Gerald Malloy, D-Darlington, said he could not support the legislation because assaults in a hospital setting shouldn't necessarily be treated differently than those in other workplaces.

"Assault is an assault," Malloy said. "All people are the same and the laws need to end up serving justice for each particular case and not by virtue of their employment."

Information from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics suggests health care workers' jobs are considered more dangerous than other fields. Six of every 100 full-time hospital employees are injured on the job, which is higher than the injury rate for those working in manufacturing and construction, according to a 2017 report from the bureau.

Sen. Marlon Kimpson, D-Charleston, said he would like to hear testimony from law enforcement about what kinds of increased penalties could be needed.

Kimpson, one of the bill's co-sponsors, said he was touched by the workers' speeches. He moved to carry over the bill, meaning the committee will need to take it up again later and vote in order to advance it, though it was unclear when that would be.

Reach Mary Katherine Wildeman at 843-937-5594. Follow her on Twitter @mkwildeman.