Vi­o­lence against health-care work­ers dis­turbs re­searchers

Abuse of staffers wide­spread, se­ri­ous and un­der-re­ported, re­port finds

Ottawa Citizen - - CITY - EL­IZ­A­BETH PAYNE epayne@post­media.com

Two re­searchers say they were shaken by what they heard when they talked to health-care work­ers across On­tario about vi­o­lence on the job.

“We had no idea of the mag­ni­tude of the prob­lem or how se­ri­ous it was. We ac­tu­ally ended up be­ing quite dis­turbed,” said Mar­garet Keith, a Univer­sity of Wind­sor re­searcher and co-author of the just-re­leased re­port on vi­o­lence against health work­ers called As­saulted and Un­heard.

Keith and her co-au­thors James Bro­phy, also a Univer­sity of Wind­sor re­searcher, and Michael Hur­ley, pres­i­dent of the On­tario Coun­cil of Hos­pi­tal Unions, found vi­o­lence against health staff in On­tario is ubiq­ui­tous and vastly un­der-re­ported, in part be­cause work­ers fear reprisal. Be­cause of that cul­ture of si­lence, they said, the is­sue is ef­fec­tively con­cealed from pub­lic scru­tiny.

They spoke with 54 health-care work­ers. All of them wit­nessed vi­o­lence against a health worker and all but one per­son­ally ex­pe­ri­enced it. In a re­lated sur­vey, 68 per cent of On­tario health work­ers said they ex­pe­ri­enced vi­o­lence in the past year, many of them sev­eral times.

Keith said they in­ter­viewed peo­ple who had teeth knocked out, their faces smashed, and suf­fered con­cus­sions and other se­ri­ous in­juries that left them de­bil­i­tated in some cases and trau­ma­tized in all cases. They also spoke to many peo­ple who had been sex­u­ally as­saulted, many of whom said their ex­pe­ri­ence was brushed off by su­pe­ri­ors as just part of the job.

“It is very hard to ig­nore the par­al­lels of gender and vi­o­lence against women in our so­ci­ety with what we were hear­ing. It mim­icked in so many ways the way do­mes­tic vi­o­lence has been treated.”

Keith said the sto­ries of sex­ual as­saults and ha­rass­ment were the most dis­turb­ing to her.

The re­searchers say the fact health work­ers are ter­ri­fied to talk about the is­sue, or even re­port it in many cases, means the prob­lem flies un­der the radar. A North Bay nurse was fired re­cently af­ter speak­ing out about vi­o­lence against nurses at a con­fer­ence.

The re­searchers said more re­sources would help re­duce vi­o­lence against health work­ers. Staffing cuts are con­tribut­ing to a dan­ger­ous and toxic en­vi­ron­ment for work­ers, they said.

The re­searchers also say a big­ger in­vest­ment in preven­tion is needed. In Smiths Falls, Ont., ear­lier this year, a hos­pi­tal clerk was stabbed by a pa­tient with scis­sors he grabbed off a desk. A Plex­i­glas bar­rier, which most hospi­tals have, could have pre­vented that in­ci­dent, the On­tario Coun­cil of Hos­pi­tal Unions says.

Keith said she be­lieves one rea­son the is­sue has not been made a leg­isla­tive pri­or­ity is be­cause the ma­jor­ity of health work­ers are women.

“We do not be­lieve in work­places that em­ploy mostly women that health and safety is be­ing given the same pri­or­ity that it is in in­dus­trial fa­cil­i­ties that em­ploy mostly men.”

The On­tario NDP is spon­sor­ing a whistle­blow­ers law that would guar­an­tee work­ers the right to re­port vi­o­lence against them with­out reprisal and speak about it.

We had no idea of the mag­ni­tude of the prob­lem or how se­ri­ous it was. We ac­tu­ally ended up be­ing quite dis­turbed.

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