MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – A Minnesota lawmaker is proposing much tougher state penalties for violence against health care workers.

The move comes after a high profile attack at St. John’s Hospital in Maplewood by a patient who beat four nurses with a metal bar he removed from a bed.

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The attack could have been much worse.

One nurse suffered a collapsed lung; another, a broken wrist.

And the patient later died.

“It was very traumatic,” said Gwynn Pepin, an intensive care nurse at the hospital where the attack occurred. Pepin works with some of the nurses who were injured.

She said she has witnessed a spike in violent incidents by patients in recent years.

“They bite, spit, kick, hit,” she said. “And that is violence of different levels, and it happens regularly.”

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The number of attacks on health care workers nationwide and in Minnesota is up seven-fold.

Most are at hospital emergency rooms, at psychiatric wards, at nursing homes and on 911 responders.

Minnesota State Representative Joe Atkins said the state needs to come up with a plan to address violence against health care workers.

“Most of them come out [of school], and they’ve been trained on how to handle medical emergencies,” he said, “but they haven’t been trained on how to deal with people carrying an iron bar or a knife.”

Atkins’ bill could address statewide training of health care workers, including nurses, firefighters and EMTs.

And it increases penalties for violence against health care workers to 3 years in prison and a $6,000 fine.

Pepin hopes the state can develop a program like other states to train health care workers on how to respond to incidents of workplace violence.

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The goal, she said, is “to respond to it and to de-escalate it for the safety of the patients, as well as for the safety of nurses.”