Study finds care workers being attacked by patients

A new study completed with the help of an Ottawa professor finds elderly residents living in Canadian nursing homes are attacking their caregivers at staggering rates.

Ottawa was one of the cities surveyed in the York University study, which examined 71 unionized long-term care facilities in Ontario, Manitoba and Nova Scotia, said Hugh Armstrong, a professor of social work at Carleton University who worked on Out Of Control: Violence Against Personal Support Workers in Long-Term Care.


"The first thing to recognize is that there’s a serious problem here and it doesn’t have to be this way," said Armstrong. "We can do a lot better."

Canadian workers are seven times more likely to experience daily violence than workers in Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden, which also have public health care.

The study, which surveyed 400-plus personal support workers, found that 43 per cent of personal support workers endure physical violence at work on a daily basis, while another quarter face violence every week. Ninety-five per cent of the workers are women, and many are immigrants.

The physical violence typically includes being slapped or hit with an object and frequently involves pinching, biting, hair pulling, and being poked or spat upon.

While Armstrong said pinpointing the cause is tricky, short staffing is one reason. Canadian long-term care facilities report three times more short staffing issues than Nordic countries.

Something as simple as a change of scenery could help the situation, said Armstrong.

"If we can make the place appear more homelike and less junior hospital, people would live longer, live better and display less violence," said Armstrong. "It’s a line we want to pursue in the future."

not just physical abuse

  • Personal support workers are also experiencing unwanted sexual attention, with approximately 30 per cent saying they experienced unwanted sexual attention on a daily or weekly basis.

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