Nearly 9 in 10 long-term care staff experience violence

Study finds abuse has been normalized within the sector

Nearly 9 in 10 long-term care staff experience violence
Unions are calling for statutory protection for staff who report or speak up about the problem of violence in long-term care facilities. Shutterstock

A new survey has found that 88 per cent of personal support workers (PSWs) and registered practical nurses (RPNs) in longā€term care facilities in Ontario experience physical violence on the job. Nearly two-thirds (62 per cent) of the PSWs and 51 per cent of the RPNs experience at least one incident of physical violence each week.


"These results paint a grim picture of a scandalously unsafe environment," said Candace Rennick, Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Ontario secretary-treasurer and former PSW. "We should not believe that this culture cannot be changed. Violence should never be seen as part of the job."


The survey, commissioned by the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions and the Ontario division of the CUPE, also revealed the following: 69 per cent of racialized, indigenous and minority staff experience related harassment; 75 per cent of all respondents believe that they are not able to provide adequate care due to workload and low staffing; and 69 per cent of nurses and personal support workers acknowledge wanting to leave their jobs.


Another study titled Breaking Point: Violence Against Long-Term Care Staff was also recently conducted by Canadian researchers. The study revealed a largely overlooked culture of abuse, a lack of uniform protections and regulations, understaffing and underfunding, as well as resulting high levels of stress and burnout among the front-line care givers.


"We found that physical, sexual and verbal abuse have been allowed to become normalized within the long-term care work environment," said James Brophy, one of the researchers from the University of Windsor. "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."


One of the study participants summarized her experiences with workplace violence as follows:


"I've been kicked. I've been scratched. Last night I got punched in the back. I've had shoes, hats, everything thrown at me. There's not a day that I haven't been abused whether it's verbal or physical. Ever,” said one of the survey respondents.


Michael Hurley, the president of the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions, who collaborated on the research study, wants to see regulatory changes.


“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."