LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — As an emergency room nurse, Elizabeth Hawkins has seen it all.

“I have been slapped, pinched, spat on,” said Hawkins. “I want to make sure that I’m coming home to my family every night. That the other nurses go home to their family.”

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In 2013, Hawkins suffered a concussion and severe injuries when she was attacked by a mentally ill patient.

“It took four grown men to hold him down,” she said.

Hawkins didn’t return to work for three months. The patient was never charged.

Elizabeth’s story sounds horrifying, but it’s not unusual.

Hospital attacks in California are up, and now medical personnel – especially in the ER – worry each night that their lives are at risk.

Four years ago, ER nurse Maria Gaytan suffered severe neck injuries when she was attacked by an intoxicated patient who tried to choke her with a stethoscope.

Gaytan was out of work for six weeks, and today she chooses not to work weekend nights when substance abuse cases in the ER are at their highest.

Both she and Hawkins are joining other nurses to demand better protection for hospital personnel.

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Nurses union executive Denise Duncan says she has seen the increase of violence – including reports of nurses “being pummeled to the ground, assaulted in the emergency room, cold-cocked by patients” – and points to one key reason why.

“Mental health patients are being boarded in our facilities because of lack of mental health beds,” said Duncan. “Our registered nurses are health care workers nurses. They are not prepared to take care of that population of patients.”

In California, it is not a felony to assault a health care worker, so hospitals are many times left to monitor themselves. Law enforcement, meanwhile, is reluctant to get involved, as both nurses found out when they insisted on filing a police report.

By July 2016, every hospital facility in California will be required to have in place procedures and training to prevent and report these violent incidents.

But nurses worry the regulations won’t go nearly far enough if more health care professionals don’t come forward with their testimony before Cal/OSHA.

For now, for nurses like Gaytan and Hawkins, they say this is not the career they signed up for.

“Nobody takes a job thinking they are not going to go home and it’s not right. It’s not OK,” said Hawkins.

The California Hospital Association and Cal/OSHA are working on new ways to keep employees and patients safe. The next hearing on workplace violence is scheduled for Nov. 19 in Costa Mesa.

For more information on what’s being done to prevent workplace violence, click on the links below:

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California Healthline
Monthly Public Hearing Schedule
United Nurses Associations Of California: Union Of Health Care Professionals