The results of a recent poll commissioned by the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) shows frontline hospital staff face alarming rates of assault.
CUPE surveyed almost 2,000 members, the majority of them women, and found they face physical, verbal, and sexual assault on a regular basis.
Scott Sharp worked at Guelph General Hospital as a part-time personal support worker. Two years ago that changed drastically for the father of four.
He was working in the emergency room when he was assaulted by a patient who was high on drugs.
“He uppercut me. I fell to the floor, my feet went under the gurney and my head hit a steel rack and hit the wall,” Sharp said.
Sharp had to have emergency spinal surgery and spent a year in a wheelchair.
His incident isn’t isolated.
The CUPE-sponsored poll, involving 30 hospitals in seven Ontario cities found that 68 per cent of respondents have experienced physical, sexual or verbal assaults in the last year, said the union’s president, Michael Hurley.
“People who are working in the professions of nursing, as personal support workers, as porters, or other people who have direct patient care contact,” said Hurley.
The numbers are even more startling in Kingston as 78 per cent of respondents said they’ve been assaulted at least once in the last year and 17 per cent say they’ve experienced physical violence at least nine times.
Those numbers are second only to Durham.
CUPE local 1974 president Mike Rodrigues says it’s more than just the person assaulted that is affected by the violence.
“They’ve been assaulted, it’s going to affect their family, their kids, their spouse. The ripple effect is much bigger than the initial assault and that’s what we’re seeing,” said Rodrigues.
CUPE has come up with 10 recommendations it would like to see implemented to end the cycle of violence in Ontario hospitals.
The list includes upgrading alarm systems and infrastructure in hospitals; amending the criminal code to make an assault on a health-care worker a more serious offence, and having hospitals agree to a shared goal of a workplace free of violence of any kind.
Hurley says the union is also calling on the provincial government to provide the investment necessary to implement the union’s recommendations and wants legislation to protect staff who report or speak up about workplace violence.
“It was only two years ago that a nurse was fired for drawing attention to the fact that we had a huge problem with violence especially in psychiatric units,” Hurley said.
For those that do report an assault, CUPE says charges are very rarely laid as Sharp knows all too well.
“The gentleman who charged me and assaulted me didn’t even get charged and this isn’t an isolated event, that’s the unfortunate part.”
For Sharp, that one incident in January 2015 has cost him almost everything.
As a part-time worker, he had no benefits, he and his wife had to cash in their savings to cover costs and his family was even evicted from their home.
Sharp is now on the road to recovery but he still has a long way to go.