Violence against health care workers in the news

St. Paul's ER survey focuses need for employer commitment and increased staffing to ensure workplace safety and quality health care

An issue all too familiar to HEU members became a hot news item this week with the release of the results of a survey on violence against health care workers in the emergency room of St. Paul's Hospital. The survey, conducted last year and published in the current edition of the Canadian Medical Association Journal, found that of 106 emergency department staff, 57 per cent were physically assaulted in 1996. However, as HEU front-line health care workers know, on-the-job aggressive and violent incidents occur frequently and are on the rise in all health facilities. The current attention to this problem confirms what Workers' Compensation Board records have chronicled throughout the 1990s health care facilities are the most dangerous places to work where health workers face more on-the-job incidents of force and violence than any other occupational group in British Columbia. According to 1996 WCB statistics, care aides/orderlies are the targets of 24.6 per cent of violent/aggressive acts. Not only does this group rank number one of the top eight occupations with the most violence or force claims in B.C., the workers are predominately female—87.7 per cent (11,590) of all care aides/orderlies in the province are women. In July, 1998, the Workers' Compensation Board released its own study on resident violence against care providers in long-term care which found that 9 out of 10 violent aggressions were toward female workers. The study, Gently into the Night: Aggression in Long-Term Care, by Simon Fraser University criminology professor Neil Boyd is the first of its kind in B.C. (July 29, 1998 letter to secretary-treasurers). In his research, which was backed by HEU, Boyd reviewed incident reports and WCB claims, interviewed workers and administrators, and conducted 120 hours of observation at six long-term care facilities. The study includes positive recommendations to improve both workplace health and safety and quality of care. HEU secretary-business manager Chris Allnutt said that one of the things the union is pushing for to reduce the violence is more staff, especially in long-term care facilities. "Residents in these facilities are older now, with greater needs because of their dementia and other problems, and they require more support," Allnutt said. "When that's not available, they become confused, anxious and aggressive, and lash out at the care providers. But if there were more staff, residents' needs would be more easily met."