The Ontario Council of Hospital Unions (OCHU) today urged Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to amend the criminal code to make it a more serious offence to assault a health care worker as a small step towards discouraging gender-based violence.
The study published this week in New Solutions (Assaulted and Unheard: Violence Against Healthcare Staff) found that funding cuts and understaffing, a lack of respect for the workforce and a workplace culture that normalizes violence as part of the job, are among the factors that contribute to the problem of patient/visitor assaults on staff in Ontario hospitals. Almost every participant was afraid to report violence because of fear of reprisal from their hospital.
“Funding cuts by all levels of government are among the factors fueling violence against health care staff, 85 per cent of whom are female. Prime Minister Trudeau’s recent comments about men’s responsibility to end violence against women need to be seen in that systemic context,” said OCHU president Michael Hurley.
In a recent poll, 68 per cent of hospital direct care staff said that they were physically assaulted this year; 20 per cent of them more than 9 times; 42 per cent were sexually assaulted or harassed.
“These women work in a toxic environment. If Mr. Trudeau’s government won’t reverse the funding cuts that are helping to fuel the violence, we ask him, at minimum, to strengthen the criminal code to send a strong and decisive message that there will be consequences if you assault a health care worker,” said Hurley.
The amendment, OCHU, the hospital division of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) in Ontario, is asking for, would apply to a staff working in hospitals, EMS, long-term care, home care and other community health agencies. It would require a judge to treat an assault against a health care worker more seriously for the purpose of sentencing. This is the case for transit employees, a predominantly male workforce.
Last May, nurses Maggie Jewell and Sandra Hillcoat asked Ontario MPPs to support a motion calling on the federal government to amend the criminal code to discourage violent attacks on health care workers.