KINGSTON, ON –/COMMUNITYWIRE/– Pandemic tensions and unprecedented hospital staffing shortages are fueling already high rates of violence – including sexual harassment and assaults – against Ontario’s mostly female hospital workforce- including at Kingston’s hospital, a new poll of 2300 front-line registered practical nurses (RPNs), PSWs, porters, cleaners, and other front-line hospital staff, reveals. Front-line staff at Kingston Health Sciences Centre (KHSC) are among the 550 eastern Ontario hospital staff polled.
Polling conducted by Oracle Research on behalf of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) May 17-24, shows a disturbing pandemic surge in physical & sexual violence against women and racially motivated attacks and a large increase in the use of weapons like guns and knives against hospital staff.
The poll found that 71% of eastern Ontario respondents experienced physical violence. That’s about 8% higher than the 63% who said they experienced physical violence on CUPE’s provincial sample.
53% have witnessed an increase in violent incidence during the COVID-19 pandemic. That is on par with the 53% on the Ontario-wide poll.
The race-based and sexual assault poll numbers are particularly jarring.
59% of racialized eastern Ontario hospital staff polled report they are subject to harassment or abuse because of their race or appearance.
50% of all categories of eastern Ontario hospital staff surveyed experience sexual harassment and 36% experience sexual assault.
Equally alarming is that 19% report an increase in the use of guns or knives against staff.
There are approximately 6000 staff at KHSC. If the poll findings are extrapolated to reflect that number, 4260 local hospital staff – 89% of them women – would be physically assaulted at work during the pandemic. Of that number about 1,620 of these assaults would be racially-motivated.
“The grimmest of all projections is that 2,160 hospital staff in Kingston would have been sexually assaulted in the workplace. The sobering reality is that hospitals are increasingly toxic and dangerous workplaces where women are beaten, sexually assaulted, and racially attacked by the hundreds every single day. There is a level of violence going on that the Premier, health minister and the hospitals can no longer ignore. They must act to stop this,” says Sharon Richer secretary-treasurer of CUPE’s Ontario Council of Hospital Unions (OCHU-CUPE).
This surge in violence against women, much of it racially motivated comes against a backdrop of severe unprecedented staff shortages and vacancies in Ontario hospitals which have fewest staff and beds to population of any developed economy.
“This means that the public waits for access in overcrowded hospitals, patients are sent home while still acutely ill or turned away without care. Family members are anxious and angry about access and about the quality of care. Skeleton staffing is normal, and staff are working alone in circumstances where they are very vulnerable to assault. Under the heavy workloads, low staffing, and violence risks, many RPNs, PSWS, porters, cleaners, clerical hospital staff are sadly making the choice to leave their hospital jobs,” says Dave Verch a veteran RPN and OCHU-CUPE first vice-president.
Recommendations to curb violence against hospital staff begins with zero tolerance and must include provincial funding at least inflation costs to boost staffing so no one works alone and to increase beds to make a dent in ending hallway care.
In Ontario, CUPE represent 50,000 hospital staff working at 120 sites of 65 hospital corporations. In Kingston, CUPE represents over 1800 hospital staff.