The vast majority (90 per cent) of front-line health-care workers in P.E.I. have experienced violence at work, from hitting and biting to threatening behaviour and name calling, according to a recent survey.
“It’s a complex issue, but if you know you’re going into a room and every time you’re going into that room you’re going to be either slapped or punched or kicked — that’s the reality our members are working in right now,” said Karen Jackson, president of the PEI Union of Public Sector Employees, which conducted the survey.
The union says there has been an increase in violence in recent years. Patients, clients and residents are the most common source of violence towards health-care workers. The union’s members are so concerned about workplace violence that it has become the number 1 issue they want addressed at the bargaining table.
“That’s huge. It’s not too many times you see that wages aren’t the number 1 concern,” said Jackson. “Our members were filling out incident reports but felt that there was nothing changing.”
One reason for the increase in violent incidents is that more younger clients are experiencing dementia, so they are physically stronger, the union says. Another reason is that there is less emphasis on restraint protocols in the health-care industry, which includes fewer medications being administered.
“Coming off these medications, our member are seeing an increase in violence,” said Jackson.
Yet another issue is staffing. The union says there is not enough staff to deal with workplace violence issues.
“If you’re going to bring in policies that’s going to increase violence in your workplace, then you need to have the resources in place to make sure that our members are safe, caregivers are safe and not only that, but the other clientele that are living in these institutions,” Jackson said.
Due to the difficult work environments, Jackson said there are now more mental health leaves than musculoskeletal injuries — which has long been the number 1 issue in health care.
The union has had many meetings with Health PEI, the province's health authority, to discuss some solutions to the workplace violence problem. According to the survey, 74 per cent of the 430 respondents said they believed incidents of workplace violence were preventable. They said hiring more staff and providing more training (such as de-escalation training) could help solve the issue.
Health PEI shares the union’s concern regarding incidents of violence. It is currently developing a Workplace Violence Prevention Strategy and a “number of site-level workplace violence prevention and reduction committees are already in place,” said senior communications officer Carmel Turpin.
“Violence affects the physical and psychological safety of health care workers, which impacts the quality of care they are able to provide to patients. Health-care workers have the right to work in a safe environment free of all forms of violence,” she said.
Health PEI has a number of policies that address workplace violence, including those for working alone, aggressive behaviour alert for acute care facilities and responsive behaviours in long-term care. The organization also provides training on the gentle persuasive approach, non-crisis violence intervention training and advanced code white training.
Turpin also reinforced the fact that employees are “strongly encouraged to report any incidents of violence through the electronic incident reporting tool so that incidents can be addressed and investigated.”
Despite these initiatives, the survey revealed that many health-care workers do not feel supported by management, with 86 per cent saying their employer doesn’t do enough to prevent violence in their workplace.
“It’s a slow process and our members just want to see some action,” said Jackson. “We have been dealing with this for three years now and the level of frustration is rising.”
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