63% of health workers experience workplace violence
63% of health workers experience workplace violence
Ontario Council of Hospital Unions’ poll
August 24, 2022
By Michelle Chermaine Ramos
The Philippine Reporter
TORONTO – Sixty-three percent of healthcare workers experience physical violence, according to David Verch, RPN and vice-president of Eastern Ontario, Ontario Council of Hospital Unions, citing results of a recent poll.
Verch was one of the frontline nurses who spoke at the August 23, 2022, press conference held by NDP Health Critic France Gélinas to announce the reintroduction of her bill called Speaking Out About Workplace Violence and Workplace Harassment.
He also said that in the last decade, violence against nurses has increased three times faster than against police and correctional officers combined.
Gelinas’s bill aims to protect nurses and healthcare workers from any reprisal when they speak out about violence at work. It will also require hospitals and long-term care homes to publicly report the number of cases of workplace violence and harassment on their websites every month.
Verch reported that according to the OCHU’s poll, of all occupational groups, healthcare workers bear the greatest risk of workplace violence. They polled over 2,300 of their members this spring and discovered that violence in the workplace, which is 84 percent female, is not only tolerated but largely ignored. Moreover, much of the surge in violence against women is racially motivated amidst severe unprecedented staff shortages in this pandemic.
“Every day, hundreds of nurses PSWs cleaners, doctors, clerical, paramedical staff, and other staff are hit, sexually assaulted, racially attacked and verbally harassed in Ontario hospitals,” said Verch.
The OCHU poll results show:
• 63% of all workers experienced physical violence.
• 78% of workers experienced non-physical violence.
• 49% of workers experienced sexual harassment.
• 36% of all workers experienced sexual assault.
• 53% of workers reported this problem has increased during the pandemic.
• 48% have reported that hospitals have done nothing to increase protections to staff during the last year.
• 62% reported being depressed, anxious or emotionally exhausted and 35% reported being extremely depressed, anxious or emotionally exhausted.
• 35% of the workforce is racialized and 71% of racialized workers report being subjected to harassment or abuse because of their race or appearance.
According to Verch, these are at least part of the reason why healthcare workers are leaving their professions. He added that healthcare in Ontario is seriously underfunded.
“Hospital funding is the lowest not only in Canada, but among developed economies in the world. Having the fewest staff and beds to population of any developed economy means that the public waits for access in overcrowded hospitals, is sent home while still acutely ill, or turned away without any care. With the fewest beds and staff population at a time when our population is aging and growing and needing more health care service, the provincial government’s cutting real hospital funding measured against its cost is a terrible situation not only for Ontarians but for the healthcare workforce,” he explained. He also added that some healthcare workers have been threatened and fired for speaking up about the violence.
Workplace violence and harassment have been treated as the norm for too long. According to DJ Sanderson, registered nurse and Region 3 Vice President of the Ontario Nurses Association representing 68,000 nurses and healthcare professionals across the province as well as 18,000 nursing students, violence and harassment on the job are so rampant and starts as early as the nurses’ first clinical placement and continues until their retirement.
He said that workplace violence prompts two out of every three nurses to consider leaving the job. Through no fault of their own, nurses are often the recipients of people’s anger and frustrations with Ontario’s broken healthcare system and violence against healthcare professionals has risen by 50% in Ontario alone.
Workplace violence can lead to life changing physical injuries, death, and PTSD. “In my workplace alone, one nurse was beaten so badly by a patient that she is still unable to return to her previous job. And after four years and multiple attempts at returning her to the workplace, her challenges still remain, and this is completely unacceptable,” said Sanderson.
A study by the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions found that 61 percent of nurses reported a serious problem with violence in the most recent 12-month period. Violence often results in physical injuries that can be life changing or lead to even death. Aside from visible physical injuries, nurses can also suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety leading to lost time from work and often resulting in lost wages.
How will the Bill help? Gélinas said that many hospitals and healthcare work settings sweep violence under the rug and that healthcare workers feel like they are being told that physical and verbal harassment are just part of the job and if reported, the first question employers ask them is “What did you do?”
The bill will amend the Occupational Health and Safety Act to change the culture in workplaces to give healthcare workers the confidence to bring these issues forward to their managers and employers without fear of reprisal. Gélinas explained that if a nurse reports being a victim of violence, the first thing she is often asked is what she did that led to that incident. Employers often move her to another unit or change her work schedule. Amending the labor law would mean that employers cannot change her work conditions without her consent.
“No one should have to work worrying about being assaulted. Even more so, no one’s career should be negatively affected for raising concern about their personal safety, about their dignity. This is especially true in healthcare, where workers are being forced to experience the brunt of the public frustration caused by an overburdened and understaffed healthcare system. This is wrong. It is hurting our healthcare heroes, and it must change,” said Gélinas.
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