Workplace violence concerns at Breton Ability Centre prompt picket
Centre houses people with physical and developmental disabilities
About 60 people chanted and waved placards at passing cars outside the Breton Ability Centre in Sydney River, N.S., Wednesday morning to draw attention to what they say is an increase in violence in the workplace.
According to the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), 20 of their 200 members who work at the home for people with physical and developmental disabilities are out on short- or long-term disability.
"They are at the end of their rope, so now they're here at an information picket. They want the public to understand that the violence in this workplace is no longer tolerable," said CUPE representative Nan McFadgen.
This marks a big change from three years ago when the number of violent incidents at the centre had dropped by almost 85 per cent, thanks to the use of new positive — or low-arousal — approaches.
Local 2513 president Karen MacMullin said the injuries suffered by residential-care workers and dietary staff include hurt backs, sprains and strains. She said staff have also been kicked and bitten.
"There is a fear of coming to work, that they will be physically injured," she said.
McFadgen said while there's an increase in the number of violent residents, the extent of the violence is downplayed and staff don't feel they have support from management.
Management says it's working on improving situation
Millie Colbourne, CEO of Breton Ability Centre, acknowledged Wednesday there are problems.
"With that many people in that environment, yes, there are going to be issues," she said.
Colbourne said over the past few weeks management met with staff on four different occasions and asked for suggestions and feedback.
"Some of the suggestions that have come forth will be implemented immediately," she said. "Others may take some time with further discussion and others we feel may violate the rights of our residents, which we cannot support."
MacMullin said they need to change how the residents are grouped together at the home and suggested reducing the number of complex residents living together.
"When they're living together in one small area, it kind of has a domino effect," she said.
Help needed from province, says Breton's CEO
Colbourne said the centre is one of the few facilities in the province that takes people with complex behaviours and who require the highest level of care.
She said they fare better in small-options homes, but there aren't enough available, although they are working with the Department of Community Services to remedy that.
"We can't do this on our own," said Colbourne. "We need their help and they're committed to helping us here. It's going to take a bit of time."
Colbourne said the centre has also invested heavily in specialized training for staff on how best to work with residents with complex behaviours. This included bringing in a noted American psychologist to conduct workshops.