On the job violence is nothing new for healthcare workers, but a new report shows the issue has been exacerbated by the pandemic, with 34 per cent of respondents saying they have experienced more violent incidents than before.
The survey, which covers the Guelph and Wellington County region, was released by the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions and Canadian Union of Public Employees.
The poll indicates the healthcare workforce is made up of 93 per cent females and 27 per cent racialized people.
“I just want to get across, if these were police officers or firefighters things would have been done a long time ago,” said Sharon Richer, secretary treasurer of OCHU and CUPE.
With healthcare being a female-dominated workforce, Richer said it should matter that violence is being perpetrated against them and these problems need to be addressed.
“Healthcare workers are very much at risk and whether we want to accept it or not, Canada’s society has a very high tolerance of violence against women and acceptance of racism that seeps naturally into healthcare institutions,” said Richer.
Seventy-four per cent of racialized respondents reported they were subject to harassment or abuse due to their race or appearance.
Respondents revealed they have experienced sexual harassment on the job, and 18 per cent said it happens at least once a week. With 10 per cent of respondents who said sexual assault occurs once a week.
“If we’re looking for an explanation as to why people are leaving healthcare and why hospitals have so many vacancies in all occupations, at least part of the explanation can be found in this poll,” said Dave Vech, first president of OCHU and CUPE.
Part of the problem, they say, is the staffing shortage which can impact violence against staff. In some cases, 66 per cent of staff have worked alone with potentially violent patients.
There are about 1,600 staff who work at the Guelph General Hospital. By taking the numbers from the poll and extrapolating them to meet the GGH staff numbers it would mean 1,072 staff would be physically assaulted at work during the pandemic.
Scott Sharp, was working as a personal support worker at GGH when he was thrown through a wall by a patient who was high on crystal meth. His spine was severely injured and he had to have surgery. After years of physical therapy he wanted to return to work but the hospital wanted to terminate him, explained Vech.
“Patient safety is still paramount,” said Vech. In cases where patients do become violent, staff are told to put up the bed rails and remove themselves from the situation.
In cases where staff are transferring patients to or from the hospital bed, if a patient becomes violent staff can’t walk away, they have to ensure the patient is safely placed into bed.
“Healthcare workers themselves have to feel comfortable enough to come forward with their concerns,” said Vech. “It is hard to get people to come forward and actually step out because they’re fearful.
“The risk of inaction here is just going to see more and more healthcare workers leave. Which is only going to make it worse."