The Current

Health-care workplace violence under-reported, suggests Ontario study

"People who go to work literally every day worried that they will be beat up or assaulted."
The study looked at 54 hospital workers across Ontario, according to Jim Brophy, who co-authored the report, Assaulted and Unheard: Violence against Health-care Staff.

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Nurses and other health-care workers in Ontario face unprovoked violence and assault from their patients, suggests a study released Monday.

"We interviewed over 54 hospital workers from across the province in seven different communities," said Jim Brophy, who co-authored the study, Assaulted and Unheard: Violence against Health-care Staff.

"People who go to work literally every day worried that they will be beat up or assaulted."

The study follows an earlier poll of 2,000 Ontario health-care workers, commissioned by the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions (OCHU) and released beginning of this month.

In that poll, 68 per cent of hospital staff in Ontario said they have been victims of physical violence at work in the past year — from getting punched and kicked, to being pinned against a wall.

'People who go to work literally every day worried that they will be beat up or assaulted,' said Jim Brophy, co-author of the study. (John Panella/Shutterstock)
We've had decades of underfunding- Jim Brophy

Brophy said the poll results were "very common" in the health-care profession dominated by women.

"In some of the facilities, it's a daily occurrence: women being grabbed, verbal harassment. It is hard to imagine having done this study that one could ignore the role of gender in this story."

Fear of reprisal

It's very hard to imagine other occupations where men are more dominant and that this kind of behaviours would be tolerated, according to Brophy.

Fear of reprisal is prevalent, said Brophy.

"It's one of the reasons that this issue has been kept out of the public view because the victims are not allowed to speak, which is another parallel, I think, to violence against women."

Brophy pointed to an under-resourced health-care system, citing a 2002 report from the World Health Organization.

"We've had decades of underfunding. Every single focus group raised with us the need for additional staff."

The Current contacted Ontario's health and labour ministers, requesting a response to Brophy's study. Neither was available.

The Current also asked the Ontario Hospital Association for an interview. It declined and sent the following statement.

The Ontario Hospital Association (OHA) is disappointed that the negotiations with Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) has reached an impasse. It is important to reiterate that the health and safety of employees has been, and will continue to be a priority for both the OHA and our member hospitals.

While we know that the work performed by healthcare providers is often challenging and demanding, acts of violence are never accepted as something that staff members should expect to face within the workplace.

The OHA and hospital sector representatives continue to play leadership roles in the Workplace Violence in Health Care Leadership Table established by the Ministry of Labour and the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care. This past spring, the Table released the Workplace Violence Prevention in Health Care Report which endorsed 23 recommendations and outlined further practical steps needed to make hospitals safer. Hospitals are currently working through and implementing these recommendations and look forward to continuing work on this important initiative.

We take the concerns brought forward very seriously and look forward to continuing to work collaboratively with the provincial government and other stakeholders and organizations to ensure our hospitals are safe.

This segment was produced by The Current's John Chipman.