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New Poll Finds Alarming Rates of Violence Against Nurses

The poll found 68 percent have experienced at least one incident of violence in the past year while 20 percent have experienced nine or more.

New Poll Finds Alarming Rates of Violence Against Nurses

The poll was taken by 770 frontline nurses and personal support workers and 1,200 additional healthcare staff.

A new survey of Ontario healthcare workers finds an overwhelming number have been assaulted one or more times in the last year alone.

The poll, conducted by the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions, surveyed 770 frontline nurses and personal support workers in Ontario. An additional 1,200 healthcare workers, such as admissions clerks and cleaning staff, were also polled.

Those surveyed were from seven cities across the Ontario province, reports The Star. The poll was conducted by interactive voice response on five separate occasions between August 26 and September 14.

The perhaps most overwhelming findings surrounded physical violence against healthcare employees. Of the 770 frontline nurses who responded, 68 percent say they experienced at least one incident of violence in the past year. Another 20 percent says they have experienced nine or more incidents of violence in the past year.

Of the 1,200 additional workers polled, 24 percent reported experiencing at least one incident of violence in the past year.

OCHU president Michael Hurley says a disturbing experience two years ago at a nursing conference led to the council’s decision to conduct a survey.

“We asked 150 nurses, how many of you have been assaulted in the last year and every single one of them put up their hand,” says Hurley. “The snapshot wasn’t exactly scientific, but from that moment, the OCHU began to probe the problem in depth.”

In addition to physical violence, 42 percent of those surveyed reported experiencing at least one incident of sexual harassment or assault.

Defunding, Tolerance for Violence against Women Blamed

Hurley believes the hostile environments created in Ontario hospitals is the result of eight years of funding cutbacks, creating long wait times and frustrated patients.

“They may be people with mental illness, people high on opiates, people distressed about the quality of their care, or distressed about the length of time they’ve waited — and they take that aggression out on the healthcare staff that they meet.”

Another factor Hurley believes has led to an increase in violence is the fact that 85 percent of Ontario hospital staff is female, according to CBC.

“You’ve got in Canadian society, unfortunately, a very high degree of tolerance for violence against women,” says Hurley. “So you’ve got this general societal attitude and it doesn’t stop at the door of the hospital. It comes right in and it’s compounded by the fact that if you assault someone in a hospital, you may not face charges.”

Veteran Nurse Recalls Acts of Violence

Linda Clayborne, a psychiatric nurse who retired in 2016, says she saw countless assaults in her 42 years on the job. She believes most could have been prevented with added staff and a security team dedicated to incidents of violence.

Clayborne recalls several violent incidents she experienced, including being punched by a patient who was repeatedly kicking a co-worker and seeing a pool of blood in a hallway after a nurse was attacked.

The survey also found that 26 percent of frontline nurses have lost time at work due to violence on the job.

In 2016, the average lost-time injury rate in Ontario was 0.94 claims per hundred workers. In the healthcare sector, that number was 1.35.

Occupational health expert Jim Brophy says fear of reprisal from employers may be greatly deflating those reported figures.

Forty-four percent say they fear reprisal from their employer if they speak out about violence they have experienced or witnessed on the job.

“You have this pressure cooker that people are facing on a daily basis the fear of assault — but you can’t talk about it.”

In September, ongoing contract negotiations between healthcare unions and the Ontario Hospital Association were halted when the hospitals “refused to agree that we share a common goal of a workplace free of violence,” according to Hurley. He also says OHA refused to write a letter to the government asking for additional funds to be used towards workplace safety.

“You’ve got frankly a hierarchal environment where there is a reluctance to acknowledge or address the problem,” says Hurley.

OHA says it is disappointed that negotiations broke down but says the safety of its employees has been, and will continue to be, a priority.

About the Author

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Amy Rock is the Campus Safety Web Editor. She graduated from UMass Amherst with a Bachelor’s Degree in Communications and a minor in Education.

She has worked in the publishing industry since 2011, in both events and digital marketing.

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