Monday November 06, 2017

'He's going to hurt someone else': Poll finds 68% of health-care workers in Ont. assaulted in past year

A recent poll of Ontario health-care workers reveals a surprising levels of violence and physical, sexual and mental abuse.

A recent poll of Ontario health-care workers reveals a surprising levels of violence and physical, sexual and mental abuse. (Pixabay.com)

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Sixty-eight per cent of hospital staff in Ontario say they have been victims of physical violence at work in the past year — and that includes everything from getting punched and kicked, to being pinned against a wall.

Twenty per cent say they have been the victims of nine or more violent incidents in the past year; 42 per cent report sexual harassment or assault.

That's according to a new poll of 2,000 Ontario health-care workers, commissioned by the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions (OCHU).

'He's going to hurt someone else now.' - Personal support worker Scott Sharp

Scott Sharp, a personal support worker is currently on medical leave, after being punched while trying to restrain a violent intoxicated patient in 2015.

Sharp hit his head on a steel rack, suffering a spinal injury.

"My first thing on my mind wasn't that I was hurt," Sharp tells The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti. 

"It was that, my God, he's going to hurt someone else now."

Sharp spent three months in hospital, and still uses a walker. He didn't receive benefits since his job was classified as part-time. The expenses, including drug costs that weren't covered, meant Sharp's family lost their house.

"Harder than my spinal injury was looking at my children," he says. 

"You place a lot of blame on yourself. It adds to the depression. It adds to the, you know, why did I let my guard down?"

Medical

Twenty per cent of health-care workers in a recent OCHU poll reported having been physically assaulted more than nine times in 2016. (pixabay.com)

Physiotherapist assistant Tanya (The Current agreed not to use her full name because she fears reprisals for speaking out) works at a Toronto-area health-care facility.  

She was putting a brace on one patient's leg when another came up behind her and pressed himself against her from behind. She told him to stop, but he continued — and the patient she was helping commented that if he were the other patient, he would do the same thing.

'They took pity on the actual patient, saying that he was sexually frustrated because of all that's happening in his personal life.' - Tanya, physiotherapist assistant 

When Tanya told a co-worker, she didn't get the help she was hoping for.

"They took pity on the actual patient, saying that he was sexually frustrated because of all that's happening in his personal life," she tells Tremonti.

No protcols in hospitals to deal with assault

Tanya reported the incident to a larger group of colleagues but says there were no protocols in place to deal with it. Eventually, she was removed from the unit, which felt to her like a punishment since she had been working there for nine years and loved it.

As a black woman, Tanya says she also faces frequent racist comments, including patients saying they don't want her to treat them.

'First of all, we'd like the hospitals to acknowledge the problem.' - OCHU President Michael Hurley

"We go in there every day and we do our best," says Tanya. "So when we're faced with this, it does chip away at your willingness to help."

OCHU President Michael Hurley, who is also a former personal support worker, says the first step to addressing the problem is straightforward.

"First of all, we'd like the hospitals to acknowledge the problem," Hurley explains.

"We'd like them to declare that an environment of violent or aggressive behaviour against staff in hospitals is not going to be accepted. We'd like them to post signs to that effect."

Hurley would also like to see the Criminal Code changed so that assault against health-care workers is taken more seriously in sentencing, as is the case with transit workers.

"[It's] not about filling the jails with people who assault health-care workers," says Hurley. 

"It's so we can have a dialogue like this about why it's a bad thing to assault health-care workers."

The Current asked Ontario's Health Minister Eric Hoskins and Labour Minister Kevin Flynn for interviews. Neither was available.  

Listen to the full conversation above.

This segment was produced by The Current's John Chipman.