Ontario health workers are being met with an increase in violence, sexual assault, and racially-motivated attacks, according to a recent poll.
The survey conducted by the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) — which represents tens of thousands of the province’s health-care workers — reveals that hospitals are becoming increasingly dangerous and the problems are being “largely ignored.”
“This surge in physical and sexual violence against women and racially motivated attacks comes against a backdrop of severe unprecedented staffing shortages and vacancies in our hospitals,” reads a release from CUPE.
The union says 85 per cent of Ontario’s health-care workforce is female.
Sharon Richer, the secretary-treasurer of CUPE’s Ontario Council of Hospital Unions. is calling on the provincial government and Ontario Hospital Association to take action, adding they cannot afford to “look the other way.”
“They cannot be silent. They must act. This is violence against women who are on our health care front-lines,” she says.
The union polled more than 2,300 nurses, personal support workers, administrative, cleaning, and other staff, between May 17 and May 24. CUPE says the latest poll introduced questions about violent incidents involving weapons and the responses suggest “a significant increase in the use of weapons like guns and knives against staff.”
Richer says the COVID-19 pandemic has further eroded hospital working conditions.
“Increased staffing shortages, stress, and patient frustrations have led to an even greater risk of violence.”
She says the increase in violence has more people leaving the sector for safer working conditions. The union would like to see several things happen to make thing safer including more money and staffing, whistleblower protection to those who report incidents, and more support for those who are victimized.
CUPE is also calling on the Ford government to repeal Bill 124 which they argue is worsening a critical nursing shortage across the province.
The Progressive Conservatives introduced the legislation in 2019 to limit compensation increases in public-sector contracts to one per cent a year. Nurses have decried the legislation as subjecting them to effective cuts while they are hailed as pandemic heroes.
“We need to pay workers fairly to make sure people across Ontario have the quality of care and services they rely on – in healthcare, social services, and universities,” reads a letter from CUPE to the province.
“Premier Ford, it’s time to commit to repealing Bill 124 and making sure we take care of workers so that they can continue to deliver the public services we all rely on.”
The recent temporary closures of two Ontario emergency rooms and consolidation of staff at another have renewed concerns over the worker shortage.
A hospital in Clinton, Ont., temporarily closed its emergency department Saturday through Monday and a Kingston, Ont., hospital reduced its urgent care centre hours over the weekend to consolidate staff at its ER, with both facilities citing physician and nurse shortages for the moves.
“The staffing shortage is (because of) the burnout and people leaving,” says Ontario Nurses’ Association President Cathryn Hoy.
“But why they’re burning out is because they come in for an eight or 12-hour shift and they’re staying 16 hours. Sometimes they’re staying 24 hours.”
The Ontario Hospital Association said staff shortages and capacity issues are creating backlogs across the hospital system, with an increased number of patients waiting for home care as well as a high number of patients in acute care beds who don’t require those resources.
Alex Munter, the chief executive officer of CHEO, told The Sam Laprade Show on Wednesday, July 5 that hospital staff have been experiencing more aggression and frustration from patients.
He said CHEO introduced extra safety measures after the hospital received a bomb threat and political motivated extremist threats earlier this year.
"It's never okay to to take out frustration on a nurse or a hospital employee," he said.
The poll shows that 71 per cent of hospital staff across Ottawa have experienced a form of violence at work, while 50 per cent of hospital workers said they have endured sexual harassment at the workplace. Thirty six percent have been subjected to sexual assault.
"The numbers are quite shocking," said David Verch, a registered practical nurse at the Élisabeth Bruyère Hospital on The Sam Laprade Show on Thursday, July 7.
Verch said the COVID-19 pandemic has had an impact on the behaviour in people.
"These incidents are happening daily and it's unacceptable."
Listen to the full interview with Alex Munter below:
Listen to the full interview with David Verch below:
With files from The Canadian Press and Irene Preklet of CityNews.
With files from CityNews Ottawa.