Kingston, ON – All 150 registered practical nurses (RPNs) from across Ontario attending a conference on violence this week reported that they have been assaulted at work. They point to underfunding that leaves staff vulnerable to increased patient aggression. And nurses say there is a gender bias in new provincial and federal spending on bricks and mortar infrastructure rather than human services, which leaves them more vulnerable.
Recently, nurses in Hamilton, Cornwall, North Bay and Kingston suffered serious injuries from patient attacks. In one case the nurses were repeatedly punched in the head, with one losing consciousness after being thrown against a wall. In another, a nurse was beaten unconscious with a lead pipe.
“Hospitals are not replacing sick nurses and patient drug dosing is set at much lower levels than previously. There are fewer staff to deal with aggressive patients,” says Linda Clayborne, a Hamilton forensic psychiatric nurse. “Violence has long-term effects on nurses, well beyond the concussion or the broken bones. The psychological impacts take a long time to heal. In some cases, the injuries sustained are so profound that the victim can never return to nursing.”
Staff at hospitals with forensic psychiatric units or those with medium secure units where patients come direct from area prisons are “easy targets for violence” on understaffed wards. Many of these patients are strong and aggressive young offenders and nurses are told that “the violence is part of the work we do. Nurses are often blamed directly by the employer for the assaults that are directed at them. Or supervisors tell nurses ‘thanks for taking one for the team’. Often nurses face reprisals for reporting incidents of violence and when we demand increased security measures,” says Sue McIntyre a North Bay psychiatric RPN.
2007/2008 data shows that Ontario hospitals provided 3.6 hours less hours of nursing care than the Canadian average. By 2012 nursing hours had been cut by another 2.1 hours. Ontario spends $353 less per citizen on acute hospital care than any other province.
Nurses are subjected daily to varying aggressive behaviours by residents in long-term care dementia units, says Bonnie Soucie an Ottawa area long-term care practical nurse.
“Nurses expect the Ontario government to move quickly to better protect them in the workplace,” says Helen Fetterly, RPN and Secretary-Treasurer of the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions/CUPE. These measures, says Fetterly include:
- Funding and staffing for Ontario hospitals and long-term care facilities increased to the Canadian average;
- Legislation, to protect healthcare workers from violence;
- Providing healthcare with the same rights to refuse unsafe work as other workers in the public sector;
- Charge patients and family members who are violent with staff under the criminal code.
- Lay charges against the administrators who are complicit in creating a working environment where violence against staff can take place;
- Provide adequate compensation for health and psychological services for workers who are the victims of violence;
- Improve security in our hospitals and long-term care facilities, including providing alarms, other protections and additional staffing.
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