Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE)

Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE)
Ontario Council of Hospital Unions (OCHU)

Ontario Council of Hospital Unions (OCHU)

November 22, 2017 13:00 ET

North Bay hospital nurses, personal support workers at higher risk of violence than hospitals elsewhere, poll comparison finds

NORTH BAY, ONTARIO--(Marketwired - Nov. 22, 2017) - North Bay direct care providers, such as nurses and personal support workers, are at greater risk of physical violence in the workplace than similar staff at other Ontario hospitals, a comparison of polling data shows.

A new Ontario Council of Hospital Unions (OCHU) poll conducted earlier this fall of 1,976 hospital staff in seven Ontario communities showed that province-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.

Following the firing of a North Bay Regional Health Centre nurse for speaking publicly about workplace violence, OCHU conducted a similar poll. Eighty-six per cent of the nurses and PSWs polled in the late winter of 2016 said they experienced at least one incident of physical violence, such as pushing, hitting or having things thrown at them in a twelve-month period.

A comparison of the two polls shows that North Bay hospital staff are 18 per cent more likely to be assaulted, said OCHU president Michael Hurley at a North Bay media conference today. "When we released the original poll, we said that North Bay direct care staff were dealing with disproportionately higher rates of workplace violence. Now this new provincial polling shows that frequency is significant."

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, joined Hurley in North Bay to release the latest poll findings.

"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 in the 2017 polling, 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. However, the 2016 North Bay hospital staff poll showed a much higher rate of sexual harassment or assault of 53 per cent for the same direct care staff.

"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.

In the 2016 North Bay poll, 51 per cent responded that they were afraid of reprisal if they spoke up about an incident of violence. The 2017 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.

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