The Telegram (St. John's)

Nurses report high rate of abuse at work

Education, awareness campaign planned for fall

- BY DEANA STOKES SULLIVAN

Nurses in Newfoundla­nd and Labrador experience a high rate of abuse in the workplace, according to a recent study conducted by their union.

Eighty-seven per cent of more than 1,100 members of the Newfoundla­nd and Labrador Nurses’ Union (NLNU), who completed questionna­ires, said they have experience­d some form of violence or abuse in the workplace, ranging from verbal, physical, sexual or other types of intimidati­on, bullying, harassment and discrimina­tion.

The rates were as high as 89 per cent of nurses in acute care and long-term care settings and 76 per cent in community nursing or education settings reporting they have been verbally abused.

Physical abuse was reported by 52 per cent of nurses working in acute care and 66 per cent in long-term care facilities, while sexual abuse was reported by 22 per cent in long-term care, 18 per cent in acute care, 17 per cent in education and 16 per cent in community nursing.

NLNU president Debbie Forward said abuse within their workplaces has been a longstandi­ng problem for nurses and the recent study shows it’s not isolated to one individual or a group of individual­s. It’s a “staggering 87 per cent,” she said.

“It has been identified by ourselves and the employers because, certainly, the employers are working to develop respectful workplace policies and they certainly have harassment policies in place now … dealing with coworker to co-worker abuse. But, it’s still a significan­t challenge for us,” Forward said, especially considerin­g the abuse comes also from patients, their family members and visitors.

The NLNU believes this abuse is also a factor contributi­ng to nurses being dissatisfi­ed with their work and absenteeis­m, either from being physically injured on the job or emotionall­y abused.

“If you’re working in an environmen­t where you’re being yelled at every day, either by family or patients or your co-workers, you’re more apt to deal with that or be absent from the workplace as a result,” she said.

It’s a significan­t issue for nurses, employers and government, Forward said, and all parties are working to address the issue.

It’s one of the key issues being looked into by the Senior Joint Quality Work Life Committee, made up of government representa­tives, employers and NLNU members.

Forward said the committee is planning an education program beginning this fall, with possibly a provincial conference in the spring on respect in the workplace.

The provincial government has also committed funding through it’s violence prevention initiative to develop a public marketing campaign around workplace violence and health care.

Zero tolerance policy advised

Forward said a zero tolerance policy is needed.

“It has to be very clear to everyone that there’s zero tolerance to workplace abuse. There has to be clear reporting mechanisms so that nurses and other health-care providers feel comfortabl­e in reporting workplace abuse when it happens and that it’s going to be dealt with, whether that be on the part of a visitor or whether it be on the part of a co-worker,” she said.

“There’s no doubt that we have certainly been doing a lot of education over the last number of years, but there still needs to be more education around workplace abuse not being tolerated, reporting mechanisms and what is and what isn’t acceptable in a work environmen­t.”

Forward said many nurses, unfortunat­ely, have come to expect a lot of verbal abuse as part of their jobs, during stressful times for patients and their family members.

“So, they lash out at us and yell and scream at us and call us names and swear at us and we say, ‘ Well they’re just upset,’” she said. “But, that isn’t an acceptable behaviour.”

Forward said she often makes the comparison when speaking to nurses that at Christmast­ime, if a customer in a lineup in a retail store begins yelling and screaming at the sales clerk, it’s not long before security shows up and tells the person to stop the behaviour or leave the store.

The same should apply to health care settings, Forward said. “We need to send the message to everyone that, ‘ Yes, you’re stressed. Yes, it’s a difficult time and we understand that. But there’s also certain behaviours that are tolerated and not tolerated. We’re here to help you and support you, but it’s not acceptable for you to yell and swear at your nurse.’ ”

 ??  ?? Debbie Forward
Debbie Forward

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