“Violence against health-care workers ‘out of control,’ survey finds.” / Sara Mojtehedzadeh (Toronto Star, Nov. 5, 2017)
A poll of hospital front-line workers across Ontario starkly reveals the unsafe and hostile workplace environment which the province’s nurses and personal support workers all too often confront. In the just-released survey of Ontario Council of Hospital Unions (OCHU) members, 68% report being physically assaulted in the past 12 months (20% more than nine times in that same period), 86% being verbally abused, 43% being sexually harassed or assaulted.
Linda Clayborne, a psychiatric nurse for 42 years in a Hamilton hospital, recounted numerous assaults on herself and co-workers, many of which she believes “could have been prevented through better staffing levels and dedicated security teams who are able to respond fully to violent incidents.”
Last year, according to Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) data, the lost-time injury rate in Ontario’s health care sector was 1.35 claims per hundred workers, compared to the average of 0.94. That rate, occupational health expert Jim Brophy suggests, may in fact be much higher due to under-reporting because of stigma and fear of reprisals.
An unacceptable toxic culture – calling for accountability
In today’s episode of CBC Radio program The Current Anna Maria Tremonti interviewed the OCHU President Michael Hurley and two injured healthcare workers about the survey, their own experiences, and what action is needed. They spoke of the physical and psychological damage and pain carried following violence and abuse, primarily from patients and their families. Among factors identified as contributing to increased levels of violence: in a female-dominated profession, the persistent societal tolerance for violence against women; a culture of blaming the victim; increasing opiate use; fewer community supports for persons with mental health conditions; austerity cuts and anguish at the level of care patients are now receiving.
OCHU is calling for tougher laws to criminalize such attacks and to protect workers against reprisals on reporting them, together with greater Ministry of Health investment in safety protection. The Council also demands administrators of healthcare facilities acknowledge the problem, implement zero tolerance for such behavior, and be held accountable. The lack of hospital protocols for dealing with violence adds to the trauma experienced by assaulted workers such Tanya (surname withheld for fear of reprisals) who are too frequently told they should just accept it. The longtime health care worker – who loved her job despite being subjected to many forms of abuse as a racialized female worker – pointed to the need for all involved in the healthcare system to be on board with violence support and intervention.
“Totally turned my family upside down”
Injured worker Scott Sharp, currently on medical leave with spinal injury after a patient assault, spoke of impacts familiar to many pushed into poverty following an accident, and of the domino effect of his injury on his whole family. Denied coverage by the WSIB for many of the medications prescribed, and his wife having to cut paid work hours to be caregiver, they had to cash in savings, eventually losing their house. “Harder than my spinal injury was looking at my children … I’m not the same dad I used to be.”
- Ontario Council of Hospital Unions/CUPE. 2017. Epidemic of Violence (website)
- ___ 2017 Nov. 5. Violence in the Hospitals (poll). Toronto: OCHU
- Canadian Press. 2017 Nov. 5. “‘Kicked, Spat On, Bit, Pushed’: Violence Against Front-Line Hospital Staff on the Rise.” CBC News
- Ontario. Ministry of Labour. 2017 Sep. “Preventing Workplace Violence In The Health Care Sector.”
- Roussy, Kas. 2016 Apr. 27. “Workplace Violence Against Health-Care Workers Under-Reported, Largely Ignored.” CBC News
- Ontario Nurses Association. Workplace Violence (website)