Two new reports suggest nearly 90 per cent of Ontario long-term care workers have experienced physical violence in the workplace.
At a press conference in Peterborough on Wednesday morning, the Canadian Union of Public Employees highlighted two new studies that say staff at Ontario long-term care homes are exposed to a “high level” of violence, abuse and harassment.
One peer-review study entitled, “Breaking Point: Violence Against Long-term Care Staff,” was conducted by Canadian researchers, Dr. James Brophy and Dr. Margaret Keith, who are associated with the University of Windsor and the University of Stirling in the United Kingdom.
They held group interviews with 1,000 long-term care staff in seven Ontario communities. Their report concluded that long-term care staff are “bloodied and broken,” both physically and psychologically.
“Long-term care homes in Ontario are largely staffed by women. Their work is based on compassion and care,” stated Keith. “And yet, they themselves are expected to tolerate an environment in which physical, verbal, racial and sexual aggression are rampant. Adding to their burden is the implicit threat that they will be disciplined or fired if they speak publicly about these abuses.”
Brophy said their study revealed a “culture of abuse” along with a lack of uniform protections and regulations, understaffing, underfunding and stressed out front-line care workers.
“We found that physical, sexual and verbal abuse have been allowed to become normalized within the long-term care work environment,” Brophy stated.
“We believe the health and well-being of health-care staff reflect the health of the health-care system itself and therefore, these findings should precipitate a critical examination of the institutional factors that allow for such high levels of violence.”
CUPE Ontario and the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions (OCHU) also commissioned a poll of front-line, long-term care staff about their experiences with workplace violence. Polling numbers were not provided.
The poll results included:
- 88 per cent of personal support workers (PSWs) and Registered Practical Nurses (RPNs) experience physical violence.
- 62 per cent of the PSWs and 51 per cent of the RPNs experience at least one incident of physical violence each week.
- 69 per cent of racialized, Indigenous and minority staff experience related harassment.
- 75 per cent of respondents believe that they are not able to provide adequate care due to workload and low staffing.
- 69 per cent of nurses and personal support workers acknowledge wanting to leave their jobs.
“The extremely high level of verbal, sexual and physical violence against long-term care staff described by our polling should concern everyone who works in, or is resident in, or who has a family member in long-term care in Ontario,” said Candace Rennick, CUPE Ontario secretary-treasurer and former PSW.
“An environment this violent and degrading for long-term care workers must surely also be unsafe for residents. These results paint a grim picture of a scandalously unsafe environment – we should not believe that this culture cannot be changed. Violence should never be seen as part of the job.”
Michael Hurley, president of OCHU,/CUPE, who collaborated with Brophy and Keith on the research study, said the study highlights the anguish and emotional and psychological pain of long-term care workers.
“We call on the provincial government to adopt minimum staffing levels in long-term care and statutory protection for staff who report or speak up about the problem of violence,” he said. “We call on the federal government to treat sexual and physical assaults against health-care staff by mentally competent persons as a serious criminal offence.”
More to come.
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