'I've been kicked in the throat': Sask. health care workers give glimpse into violence at work

It's becoming the norm for nurses to get bruised and beat up while on the job, according to the president of the Saskatchewan Union of Nurses.

Between 70% and 80% of violent incidents don't get reported, says head of province's nurses union

A reported 70 to 80 per cent of healthcare workers don't report workplace attacks against them. (Canadian Press)

Getting punched, kicked and spit on by patients are just some of the things frontline health care workers say they face on a regular basis across Saskatchewan. 

People just start to think that that's the price of doing business ... Well, absolutely not.- Tracy Zambory, Saskatchewan Union of Nurses president

Earlier this month, photos of a registered nurse in Saskatoon began circulating online.

Bruised and beaten, the man had been brutally attacked while on the job. 

Violence on the job is something Big River long-term care worker Debbie Gunderson is familiar with after 28 years in her profession.

"I've been kicked in the throat. I was headbutted in the face. I was punched in the stomach. So you could be spit at or swore at or, you know, those kinds of things are quite common," she told CBC Radio's Saskatoon Morning.

"Those kind of things you have to learn to brush them off. Like, they could literally get you down if you actually took it to heart … It's the actual physical things that are harder to get over."

Not an isolated experience

Saskatchewan Union of Nurses president Tracy Zambory said she too has dealt with being hit and kicked, by people who are cognitively impaired.

"They can become frightened and they're not sure how to react so they can hit you and they can kick you," she said.
Tracy Zambory says she's been hit and kicked by people while working as a registered nurse. (Saskatchewan Union of Nurses)

However, Zambory is insistent that those instances can be stopped through preventative action like equipping health care workers with personal safety devices, open communication from the ground level up to the health authority, and following "robust" protocol meant to keep workers safe. She said another solution is pairing junior staff with senior staff to familiarize themselves with the environment and patient population they're working with.

She said right now between 70 and 80 per cent of incidents don't get reported and that needs to change.

"We need to think about, 'Why is this becoming the norm?'" she said.

Zambory said she's disappointed that violence can be seen as standard in the workplace.

"People just start to think that that's the price of doing business and in some instances they're even being told, 'Well if you're going to work in mental health, if you're going to work in long-term care, you can expect that as part of the job.' Well, absolutely not," she said.

"It should not be part of the job. It should never be thought by a health care worker anywhere in this province or across this country that going to work is going to equate getting beat up."

With files from CBC Radio's Saskatoon Morning