Violence is driving female hospital workers to quit, union says

An “exodus” of hospital staff will worsen unless the Ontario government addresses a growing problem of violence and attacks on its workers, the majority of whom are women, says the Canadian Union of Public Employees.

“The pandemic has caused further erosion in our working conditions,” CUPE’s Sharon Richer said at a news conference Tuesday, citing concerns from a survey of members that found a rising incidence of physical attacks and racially motivated harassment as that patients and their families attack out of frustration with levels of care.

“Staff are leaving and this is one of the reasons,” he added, also referring to a one percent wage increase cap under the Ford government’s Bill 124 and calling for better staffing levels. “Healthcare workers have had enough.”

The warning from CUPE and the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions representing registered practical nurses, personal support workers, doormen, cleaners and other frontline staff legally barred from striking comes with their latest contract lawsuits in arbitration and a new health minister at work

Former Attorney General Sylvia Jones, who was in charge of launching the government’s COVID-19 vaccine, was appointed health minister in Prime Minister Doug Ford’s new cabinet late last month.

Richer said the unions have not yet spoken to Jones about the issues raised in Oracle Research’s survey of 2,300 front-line members in May. They follow a 2017 report that found inadequate and inconsistent security measures in Ontario hospitals put healthcare workers at risk. Meanwhile, workers are often afraid to report incidents for fear of being blamed or penalized.

New Democrat MPP France Gelinas (Nickel Belt) said she has tried three times since 2017 to rectify that with a private members bill to amend the Occupational Safety and Health Act to avoid any penalties against workers who report violence or abuse. harassment, but it was not approved by the Liberals or the Conservatives.

“Too often, workplace violence is swept under the rug,” Gelinas said.

The Star has contacted the health minister’s office but has not received a response.

Ontario Hospital Association spokeswoman Hannah Ward said OHA and the hospitals have violence prevention strategies and “will continue to work with bargaining agents and other key stakeholders … to meet these obligations.”

Noting that 85 percent of CUPE members in hospitals are women, Richer said that “this rise in violence against women, much of it racially motivated, is occurring in a context of severe staffing shortages and no precedents”.

He highlighted the cases from several years ago of Dianne Paulin, a North Bay registered practical nurse who was assaulted by a patient who pinned her against a door with a chair and hit her repeatedly, and Scott Sharp, a PSW who received a brutal upper cut. . of a violent patient, causing a spinal cord injury.

“The Ontario government has turned a blind eye,” Richer said.

The survey found that 63 percent of respondents said they had experienced physical violence, such as being pushed against a wall or worse, and 53 percent reported an increase in incidents against them or their co-workers during the pandemic.

With staffing shortages, employees are being forced to do more work alone, which appears to be creating more problems, Richer said, calling for increased funding to boost hiring and improve working conditions.

Acting NDP leader Peter Tabuns issued a statement pointing to the temporary closure of an emergency department in Clinton, north of London, and in Perth, west of Ottawa, as examples of the problem.

“Can you imagine arriving at the emergency room with a sick little one only to find the doors locked and the lights off? No one should have to wait or drive down the road to get the care they need.”


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