Sudbury

Long-term healthcare workers in northern Ontario reporting widespread violence

Personal support workers (PSW) and registered practical nurses (RPN) in Sudbury and northern Ontario experience higher levels of physical violence compared to the provincial average.

Many long-term care staff fear job loss if they report violence

Margaret Keith, James Brophy, researchers for the study "Breaking Point: Violence Against Long-Term Care Staff" and Sharon Richer, the secretary-treasurer of (OCHU/CUPE). (Jamie-Lee McKenzie/CBC)

Two reports released Wednesday describe how personal support workers (PSW) and registered practical nurses (RPN) in Sudbury and northern Ontario experience higher levels of physical violence compared to the provincial average.

The reports commissioned by CUPE cover staff in Ontario's long-term care homes.

In one investigation, more than 1,000 frontline, long-term care staff in Ontario, including those in Sudbury, Sault Ste. Marie, Timmins and North Bay, were polled on their experiences with violence in long-term care homes.

The poll found that 96 per cent of PSWs and RPNs in northern Ontario experience physical violence. This is eight per cent higher than the provincial average.

Researcher Margaret Keith says many of the staff are expected to tolerate the violence, abuse and harassment that happens in long-term care homes. (Jamie-Lee McKenzie/CBC)

The poll was commissioned by CUPE's Ontario Council of Hospital Unions (OCHU/CUPE) and the Ontario division of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE Ontario).

"That the polling shows much higher rates of violence in northern Ontario long-term care homes than the provincial average should be a wake-up call for all our MPPs to support minimum staffing levels in long-term care and statutory protection for staff who report or speak up about the problem of violence," said Sharon Richer, the secretary-treasurer of (OCHU/CUPE).

Richer said that many of these workers are afraid to speak up about the violence they're experiencing due to fear of losing their jobs. 

"People are actually not reporting the violence that they're feeling in long-term care because they just don't feel safe when they go into their manager's office. Many of them are feeling that they're being blamed," Richer said. "What happened in that specific incident that would suggest that it's their fault, so they're not reporting."

OCHU/CUPE is asking the federal government to start treating violence against healthcare staff in long-term care homes as a serious criminal offence. 

"We need criminalization for these workers, so that they are protected. We know that not all the patients, certainly, could be charged because of their medical history, but there are some attacks from family members," said Richer.

She said they would completely support charges against family members and mentally competent clients.

"Specifically to Sudbury, we know that there is absolutely a crisis that is absolutely happening, where long-term care homes certainly do not have enough workers currently," which Richer said is one of the biggest causes of the violence in care homes.

The study asked long-term healthcare staff to show the physical assaults they've experienced in the workplace. (Supplied by OCHU/CUPE)

"These workers are working short-staffed, they're over-worked because of the complex needs of the residents and residents are getting frustrated, families are frustrated and we're seeing clients and families lashing out onto the workers."

The second study is an in-depth, peer-reviewed investigation on violence against staff in Ontario long-term care homes called "Breaking Point: Violence Against Long-Term Care Staff."

The researchers held group interviews with long-term care staff in seven Ontario communities (the communities cannot be named due to confidentiality issues).

They heard stories from staff who had to deal with all sorts of violence, both physical and verbal.

"Physical violence, verbal abuse, racial and sexual harassment and even sexual assault that was so pervasive and wide spread that it's become normalized now, seen by the nurses and personal support workers as just part of the job," said researcher, James Brophy.

Both reports made recommendations to change the culture within long-term care homes, including adding more protection for nurses and personal support workers, giving staff better ways to communicate and making sure that staff are not alone with potentially violent patients.

Nurses and personal support workers in Northern Ontario are experiencing high levels of violence. That's confirmed in two reports. One of the reports came from CUPE's Ontario Council of Hospital Unions. Sharon Richer spoke with the CBC's Jamie-Lee McKenzie about that study. We also heard from Margaret Keith, one of the researchers involved in the second report. 7:13

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