Violence against health-care workers 'increasing tremendously,' says Winnipeg MP and physician

As violent incidents in Winnipeg hospitals rise, members of the health-care community are calling for change.

Doug Eyolfson calling for a federal strategy to address growing violence against health-care workers

Liberal MP Doug Eyolfson says when he worked as a physician, he was assaulted by a patient experiencing severe psychosis — an attack that resulted in a concussion. (Holly Caruk/CBC)

A Winnipeg member of Parliament who experienced violence first-hand in his work as a doctor says violent incidents in Winnipeg hospitals are on the rise — and he's calling on his fellow MPs to do something about it.

Doug Eyolfson, the Liberal MP for Charleswood-St. James-Assiniboia-Headingley and a physician, was set to table a petition Friday calling for a federal strategy to address growing violence against Canadian health-care workers.

"It's something that's been going on for years, and has been more or less accepted as part of the health-care environment," Eyolfson said.

"But it's been increasing tremendously over the last few years." 

That's why he developed a petition calling for the health minister to create a pan-Canadian framework investigating the causes of health-care violence, and to develop a strategy to address those issues.

Eyolfson said when he worked as a physician, he was assaulted by a patient experiencing severe psychosis — an attack that resulted in a concussion.

"[They] punched me in the face, basically hard enough that the back of my head hit a wall. I was dizzy for a bit and had a black eye and broken glasses," he said.

Part of the reason health-care workers are seeing increased violence is due to the spike in methamphetamine use, Eyolfson said.

"That in itself can cause a very violent and prolonged psychosis that makes patients very hard to deal with. Some of my colleagues have said they're dealing with one violent incident a day in some departments."

'There to help people, not to defend themselves'

Darlene Jackson, president of the Manitoba Nurses Union, said she's also heard from nurses that violent incidents in health-care facilities are increasing, and it's a province-wide problem in acute facilities, rural facilities, and long-term care facilities.

"This is all very stressful for nurses, and if you've ever witnessed it in a department as a family member or a patient, it's very, very stressful," she said.

MNU has been lobbying for a provincial strategy, which would address safety and security in all Manitoba health-care facilities.

Darlene Jackson, president of Manitoba Nurses Union, said violence in health-care facilities is a province-wide problem. (CBC )

From October 2016 to October 2018, there were 175 violent incidents reported at Grace Hospital, and 444 at the Health Sciences Centre, according to data from the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority.

The WRHA's numbers represent verbal abuse, violent threats, and physical aggression.

The statistics include deliberate violence and instances where a patient may have had no control over their actions, such as patients living with dementia and other individuals who may be disoriented due to a medical condition, WRHA spokesperson Paul Turenne said in an email to CBC News.

"There's no question that violence seems to be a broader community-wide issue that we're facing, " said WRHA president Réal Cloutier.

"So it's not a surprise to me that we're seeing some of that in our health-care facilities."

Cloutier said the health authority is looking at ways to make its facilities safer, which includes the possibility of increased security.

WRHA president Réal Cloutier said the organization is looking at ways to make health-care facilities safer, including the possibility of increased security. (CBC)

"We aren't prisons. We have to balance out that people also come to us for health-care services, and they don't always come in their best forms," he said.

Currently, the WRHA has a provincial health-care violence prevention program in place, which was developed in collaboration with the Manitoba Nurses Union, Turenne wrote to CBC.

The program, launched in 2016 and expanded last year, is designed to mitigate, eliminate or reduce all forms of violence in lealth-care workplaces.

"[Health-care workers are] there to help people, not to defend themselves," Cloutier said.

"From my perspective, we have to do whatever we can to protect our staff from those situations."

​With files from Erin Brohman, Meaghan Ketcheson and Mathilde Monteyne