Gélinas presses health minister on ‘staggering’ violence faced by health-care workers

The Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care is ignoring frontline health workers who are concerned about the level of violence they face in the workplace, Nickel Belt MPP France Gélinas said this week.

In question period, the NDP’s health critic asked Health and Long-Term Care Minister Eric Hoskins why Ontario hospitals of ignoring the safety of workers.

“For years, frontline health care workers have been calling on the Wynne government to solve the problem of violence in their workplace,” said Gélinas. “But this government, like the Conservatives before them, keeps squeezing hospital budgets, laying-off frontline workers, and pushing our hospitals into a dangerous overcrowding crisis.”

Contract negotiations between the Ontario Hospital Association (OHA) and the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) abruptly broke down last week following the hospitals’ refusal to address the issue of workplace violence, she said.

The issue was raised in Sudbury this week during a press conference held by the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions, which represents 27,000 hospital workers in the province.

That includes members of CUPE Local 1623, which represents 1,200 service and clerical workers at Health Sciences North.

Dave Shelefontiuk, the president of Local 1623, related one story in particular during the press conference.

This summer, a staff member Health Sciences North’s Kirkwood site was mopping the floor when he was physically attacked by a patient, according to the union representing HSN’s service and clerical staff.

“A fairly big patient, for whatever reason, decided he was going to throw punches at him and probably landed four or five off that individual’s head,” Shelefontiuk said.

The staff member was transferred to the hospital’s main site after the incident, where Shelefontiuk spoke to him.

He suffered some bruising, but it was his mental state that Shelefontiuk was more concerned about. “He was very jittery,” he said, adding he didn’t think the man was ready to be back at work yet.

Physical and verbal assaults are an almost daily occurrence, Shelefontiuk told reporters.

Michael Hurley, the president of the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions, who also attended the press conference, said the problem isn’t unique to Sudbury. It’s provincewide.

“The Canadian Institute for Health Care Information, in stats it had in 2014, said that about one half of nurses were physically assaulted in that year,” he said. “That’s kind of staggering when you think about it.”

In light of the undercurrent of violence in Ontario’s health-care system, the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions (OCHU) said it’s looking for contract language aimed at reducing these incidents.

The OCHU has been in contract talks with the Ontario Hospital Association (OHA) since June.

But the OCHU broke those talks off last week because of what they say is the OHA’s unwillingness to address the workplace violence issue.

“We asked if the hospitals could agree that we shared a common goal of workplaces that were free of violence, and they wouldn’t agree to that,” Hurley said.

In her comments at Queen’s Park, Gélinas said nearly half of direct care hospital staff report being assaulted by patients or patients’ family members each year, a statistic she argued is under-reported by hospital staff who are fearful of “employer reprisal.”

“There are hospital workers in Ontario who have been beaten so badly while at work, they will never work again.” said Gélinas. “Will this government bring the Ontario Hospital Association back to the table and provide the funding that’s needed to keep these hospital workers, to keep these (mainly) women safe from violence at work?”

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