PEI

'We've had broken bones': 90% of P.E.I. health-care workers report workplace violence

A recent survey of patient and resident care workers and licensed practical nurses found 90 per cent had experienced violence in the workplace, and more than half do not feel safe at work.

New survey suggests majority believe Health PEI is not doing enough to protect them

A large majority of patient and resident care workers and licensed practical nurses say Health PEI needs to do more. (John Panella/Shutterstock)

A recent survey of patient and resident care workers and licensed practical nurses on P.E.I. found 90 per cent had experienced violence in the workplace, and more than half do not feel safe at work.

It's probably gotten worse.— Karen Jackson

The survey was done by the P.E.I. Union of Public Sector Employees, which represents about 1,000 of these workers on the Island. It received responses from 427 health-care workers, who say most of the violence came from patients.

"We talk about slapping, we talk about pinching, we talk about grabbing thumbs and fingers and twisting," said UPSE present Karen Jackson.

"We talk about broken bones. We've had broken bones. We've had post-traumatic stress disorder, we've had choking, we've had spitting, we've had kicking, we've had punching."

Kelly Drummond, director of human resources at Health PEI, does not dispute the seriousness of the situation.

"It's certainly alarming but not a surprise," said Drummond. "The results of UPSE's recent survey is in line of what we've seen in our past surveys."

More important than wages

But Health PEI's concerns do not appear to be a comfort to health-care staff. The survey found 86 per cent believe Health PEI is not doing enough to protect them, and 74 per cent felt these violent incidents were preventable. 

"It's probably gotten worse," Jackson said of the situation over the last few years.

She noted it has reached the point that violence is the number one issue her members want dealt with in collective bargaining negotiations.

"It was above wages which is unheard of," said Jackson.

'If you're changing policies then you need to have the resources in place to support the policy changes,' says Karen Jackson. (Laura Chapin/CBC)

"Wages are usually the top thing that our members want negotiated. But violence in the workplace is what they wanted addressed."

Jackson believes one factor in the violence problem is a move to give patients less medication. She agrees less medication is a good idea, but said one of the reasons those patients have been medicated was to keep them calm.

With patients more agitated, Jackson said more staff is needed to ensure the safety not only of staff but of other patients.

"If you're changing policies then you need to have the resources in place to support the policy changes, and more staffing is definitely needed," she said.

Issue will take time to solve

Health PEI has been working continuously on improving the work environment, Drummond said.

She said workplace violence is a complex issue, and one that will take time to improve, because it can become ingrained in the culture of a place.

"We have developed committees that are site-specific that are really working with regards to the issues that are taking place," she said.

"It's the way that employees are engaged in identifying what the problems are and coming up with solutions to that."

For Drummond, another lesson from the survey is the number of employees who feel that Health PEI is not doing enough.

"We have work to do in improving our communications so that staff are aware of what measures are in place to support them," she said.

Drummond said there is training available to help staff deal with potentially violent situations, and Health PEI is continuing to look at new approaches. It is looking at violence prevention programs across the country to determine best practices.

With regard to more staff, Drummond said Health PEI is doing an extensive review of long-term care that will include staffing numbers.

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With files from CBC Radio: Island Morning

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