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OPINION: Violence in workplace ‘major challenge’

Karen Jackson is president, Prince Edward Island Union of Public Sector Employees.
(Guardian File Photo)
Karen Jackson is president, Prince Edward Island Union of Public Sector Employees. (Guardian File Photo) - The Guardian

We need to value and protect our dedicated health care workers in front lines – Karen Jackson

By KAREN JACKSON

GUEST OPINION

I am encouraged that Health P.E.I. is beginning to address the crisis in our healthcare system - the violence in the workplace that our members are experiencing every day. UPSE has been in conversation with Health P.E.I. for the past year and a half about this issue.

In November 2017 I was invited to speak at the Health P.E.I. Leaders Community Meeting, and I included members who had been victims of assaults in their workplaces, to speak as well. Our goal at that meeting was to increase awareness about the increase in frequency and severity of workplace violence occurring in the province’s long term care facilities, acute care hospitals, our mental health institution, and home care.

Many UPSE members are health care workers. They work on the frontlines every day as Licensed Practical Nurses (LPNs), Resident Care Workers (RCWs), Patient Care Workers (PCWs), and Home Support Workers. They play an integral role in providing hands-on-care to their patients, residents and clients – and unfortunately they are also, all too often, the victims of workplace violence.

The incidents of violence has been on the rise and it has reached a critical point, where our members identified it as the top issue in negotiations and the employer has identified it as the number 2 reason employees submit incidents reports. The stress this places on health care workers is inordinate. In a workplace already plagued with high stress and burnout, incidences of workplace violence exacerbate the challenges already faced by our members on the front line.

What is needed is a fundamental shift from a culture reacting to violence in the workplace, to a culture of violence prevention. Prevention protects workers, improves patient care and makes the care environment a more positive place. Education is also important. We need to help educate the public on what is acceptable when they go into a health care institution.

Our members are asking for help. They want to be heard and to be respected for the role they play every day as frontline caregivers, and for the employers to be supportive when workers are faced with these serious issues.

As a health care worker myself, I understand that workplace violence is a complex issue and does not have any simple solutions. The employer is obligated to provide a safe workplace to protect workers from violence and abuse, and to have supports in place to deal with these issues.

Health P.E.I.’s new protocol to create awareness for staff about potentially violent patients is a step in the right direction. This protocol will include care plans for specific patients to help staff reduce the risk of violent encounters.

Proper staffing ratios are also key in promoting workplace safety. Violent patients/residents/clients often require more staff, and the right staff at the right time to ensure both patient and worker safety. However, because of limited human resources and a fast paced and demanding work environment, it is a constant challenge. I think staffing levels are too low to adequately deal with the problem and this will need to change to ensure a safe workplace.

UPSE will be launching a campaign in the near future to generate more awareness about workplace violence in the health care system. Violence is not “part of your job” and should not be accepted in any form. This has been a nationwide issue for a number of years, but it is now a crisis. We need to work together to promote workplace health and safety and to ensure that health care workers can deliver care in non-threatening work environments.

The new protocol is just a start. We need to value and protect our dedicated health care workers who are the front line for Health P.E.I. and make sure there are adequate staff and resources available to meet the demands they are facing.

- Karen Jackson is President, UPSE

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