Nurses being battered and bruised while on the job

It’s breakfast time at Toronto East General Hospital in Toronto and things are already heating up.

Nurse Doriann Duncan-Johnson is busy examining a patient who was brought in by police overnight.

So far, the patient has been very aggressive and spitting at the nurses.

“We deal with patients like this almost every day that we come to work,” explains Duncan-Johnson. “If they’re aggressive — like swearing at us, spitting at us, trying to hit us then we call security.”

Cases like this are routine for thousands of nurses across Canada.

16×9 and the Toronto Star teamed up to investigate the assault and abuse of nurses across Canada.

They are being kicked, punched, spat on and called awful names on almost a daily basis.

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Data we collected from the Association Of Workers’ Compensation Boards Of Canada revealed there were more than 4,000 assaults on nurses nationally between 2008-2013 serious enough to keep them out of work and away from the bedside.

“It’s a concerning issue for healthcare workers. I’ve seen lots of violent events. I’ve heard some horrendous stories from healthcare workers,” says Henrietta Van hulle, Executive Director for Health & Community Services at Public Services Health & Safety Association.

A patient’s feet are seen through a hospital room door in the emergency department of the Toronto East General Hospital. (The Canadian Press)

According to Van hulle, nursing had more violent events in 2014 than corrections officers in Ontario.

But the truth is those numbers – more than 4,000 assaults – don’t even come close to the real number of assaults happening in Canadian hospitals.

During our six month investigation, many nurses told us they don’t report all the abuse to their employer because they believe the violence is part of their job or they will get fired for speaking up.

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“First of all, they don’t want to stigmatize their patient,” says Van hulle. “They are concerned perhaps about being blamed.”

We sat down with Ontario Minister of Labour, Kevin Flynn, to discuss the high levels of violence in Ontario hospitals.

Minister Flynn says he is very concerned about the severity and the number of workplace incidents of violence in healthcare and urges nurses to step forward to report.

“If they feel like they’ve been a victim of violence, I want them to come forward,” says Flynn. “If I thought for a minute that their employers who are trying to provide some level of retribution for them coming [forward], that’s clearly illegal we don’t tolerate that we don’t stand for that.”

But in the last five years, the Ministry of Labour has only laid three charges against hospitals for incidents related to workplace violence. Two of the prosecutions involve charges laid under the violence provision of the Occupational Health and Safety Act and the third falls under non-violence provisions.

“We aren’t afraid to lay charges if charges are necessary,” Flynn explains. “There has to be a consequence to not doing the right thing or to be told to do the right thing.”

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To learn more about high levels violence against nurses in Canada, watch 16×9 Saturday, October 31st at 7 p.m. and read about our investigation here.

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