CUPE survey results suggest that hospital staff in Ottawa commonly experience physical violence at work

Of local respondents, 53 percent said they have witnessed an increase in violence during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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New findings released by the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions (OCHU) suggest that the province’s hospital staff commonly experience violence in their workplaces, including in Ottawa.

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OCHU, part of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), released survey results indicating that 71 percent of Ottawa-area respondents said they have experienced physical violence at work. In Ontario as a whole, 63 percent said they have faced physical violence.

Of local respondents, 53 percent said they have witnessed an increase in violence during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Our members serve patients who believe it’s okay for people to be touched, handled inappropriately, while providing care to people,” said Sharon Richer, OCHU secretary and treasurer.

“This is a definite issue and some people don’t report it for fear of retaliation from their employer.”

The survey also highlighted that 50 percent of Ottawa hospital workers said they have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace and 36 percent have experienced sexual assault.

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Melanie Viau, a local registered practical nurse and francophone vice president of OCHU, said that with patients’ mental health deteriorating and waiting times increasing due to the pandemic, in addition to 89 percent of OCHU staff hospital are women, the reports of violence have only gotten worse.

“Many more people are struggling with their mental health. And these patients come to the hospital and they don’t know how to deal with having to wait or being told ‘no.’”

Of those surveyed, 19 percent reported an increase in the use of knives or guns against staff.

59 percent of racialized respondents reported harassment or abuse due to race or appearance.

At Queensway Carleton Hospital, Brian Smith, clinical director of the emergency department, mental health and intensive care unit, said he’s seen an increased number of “white codes” recently, particularly in the emergency and mental health departments.

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Smith said a “white code” refers to “an emergency response to a violent or behavioral situation with a person,” prompting appropriate personnel with de-escalation training to act.

One way the hospital is mitigating episodes of violence, Smith said, is through increased security personnel and a 24/7 security guard center in the emergency department.

“This violence is not part of the job, every hospital employee comes to work every day wanting to care and serve their patients, so it is not part of their job to accept any form of abuse or violence,” Smith said.

Dave Verch, OCHU vice president and veteran registered practical nurse, is among the nurses and union officials calling for changes to hospital management teams.

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“A lot of hospitals have zero tolerance policies, but it’s literally a piece of paper. And when these incidents are reported many times, it’s ‘what did you do wrong?’ and the worker has been turned around,” said Verch.

“Part of our demands is that hospitals really enforce those policies and have real consequences when violent acts are taken against healthcare workers.”

Some of the immediate solutions staff and union officials are asking for are increasing staffing so that no nurse is left alone with a patient, and setting up a system to flag records of violent patients so hospital staff can provide care. proper care.

Richer said these measures can be preventative in situations like the ones he has witnessed, such as when staff are beaten, groped or barricaded in rooms with violent patients. However, she said the final request is for an adequate rate of funding to obtain staff, as shortages are the root cause of these problems.

“Bed capacity is very low, people are being cared for in the corridors next to the elevators, this is a real problem,” he said. “All this frustration comes out with the patient, who then starts to lash out.”

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