OTTAWA – Hospital direct care providers, such as nurses and personal support workers, are at great risk of physical violence in the workplace, a poll of Ontario and Ottawa hospital staff released today finds.
Ontario-wide, 68 per cent of registered practical nurses (RPN) and personal support workers (PSWs), said they had experienced at least one incident of physical violence in the hospital such as punching, hitting, or having things thrown at them, in the last year. Nearly 20 per cent said they’ve been physically assaulted nine times or more in the last year.
In a RPN and PSW poll sampling from Ottawa area hospitals, 64 per cent of respondents say that they’ve experienced at least one incident of physical violence in the year. That’s a rate slightly below the 68 per cent provincial average. However, 25 per cent of Ottawa respondents say they’ve experienced some form of physical violence at least nine times in the last year, which is higher than the provincial average of 20 per cent.
The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), through its hospital division, the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions (OCHU/CUPE), polled 1,976 members working in hospitals in seven Ontario communities including Ottawa earlier this fall. The poll findings were released in Ottawa by OCHU president Michael Hurley and Scott Sharp, a personal support worker, who was thrown through a wall by a very disturbed patient at a Guelph hospital and is, over two years later, struggling to recover and return to work.
“The level of physical violence that I experienced and that so many other hospital staff experience every day, scars the body and it scars the soul. Not enough is being done by the hospitals to create a culture where violent behaviour is simply not tolerated. Instead the victims of violence are to a large extent, simply swept under the carpet,” says Sharp.
Among the many disturbing findings is that Ontario-wide 42 per cent of nurses and personal support workers report having experienced at least one incident in the past year of sexual harassment or assault.
“Hospital management is scandalously complacent about an environment where their largely female staff are frequently hit and sexually harassed and sexually assaulted. Managers see this as just part of our jobs. One staff member who was sexually assaulted was told by her supervisor that the patient must have been sexually frustrated. People working in health care should have the same rights not to be physically or sexually assaulted or harassed as any other person,” says Hurley.
The Ontario results show that 44 per cent of RPNs and PSWs do not agree that their employer protects them and their co-workers effectively from violence. “Ontario hospitals should be leaders in workplace violence prevention. The reality, regrettably is the opposite,” says Hurley.
Even hospital staff in other support occupations experience violence. In the province-wide polling 24 per cent said that they’ve been pushed, hit or had things thrown at them at least once in the past year.
OCHU/CUPE is calling on the federal and provincial governments for legislative and legal changes to protect health care staff.