Long-term care workers face workplace violence

TheStar.com – Canada – Long-term care workers face workplace violence
March 11, 2008
Joseph Hall, Health Reporter

Elderly and demented residents are attacking their caregivers in Canadian nursing homes at alarming rates, a York University study says.

Frustrated with inadequate staffing levels, nursing home residents are lashing out with fists, feet and verbal and racial abuse at workers in the facilities, the report says.

“Our research shows that the level of violence in Canadian long-term care facilities is appallingly high,” said Albert Banerjee, the lead study author and a doctoral candidate in sociology at York.

“Our study finds that violence is a constant and ongoing part of working in Canadian long-term care facilities. This situation … is out of control.”

Based on a survey of 415 workers at 71 nursing homes in Ontario, Nova Scotia and Manitoba, the study found that 43 per cent endure physical violence on a daily basis.

The study specifically keyed on personal support workers, who are responsible for helping bathe, clothe and feed residents.

Eulalee Thompson, who has served as a personal support worker at a GTA facility for 25 years, said she can vouch for the study’s findings. “I have been punched, I have been kicked, I have been grabbed and spat on,” she said.

“I believe one of the main reasons for the large amount of violent behaviour has to do with the fact that older, particularly demented residents get frustrated when they are hurried (or) cannot get the attention they need on time.”

At her 120-bed facility, which she did not name, Thompson said she would typically have to “bathe, toilet and dress” 15 residents in the hour before breakfast each day – four minutes for each.

York sociology professor Pat Armstrong, the paper’s principal author, said the levels of daily violence for workers in Canadian facilities was about seven times those recorded by similar surveys in Europe’s Nordic countries.

Armstrong said there is no indication or likelihood that the institutionalized elderly in Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Finland are more violent than their Canadian counterparts. Nordic facilities, which are also run under socialized health care programs, simply have more staff and thus happier, less “stressed out” residents, she said.

“Where 44 per cent of the Canadian (workers) said they worked short-staffed more or less every day, only 15 per cent of the Nordic respondents reported such short staffing,” Armstrong said.

A spokesperson for Ontario Health Minister George Smitherman said staffing levels in the province have steadily improved since 2003 when the Liberal government increased funding to long-term facilities by $800 million a year.

The ministry’s Alex Young said the province, which spends $3 billion a year on the homes, has added 6,000 long-term care workers in the past five years and that staffing levels would have improved since the York survey was done in 2006.

“Complaints (from patients and families) have dropped by 22 per cent,” said Young, adding the province is currently deploying another 1,200 nurses to the facilities.

But the head of the Ontario Long Term Care Association said the extra provincial staff and funding still leaves care levels in Ontario lagging behind the rest of the country.

Ontario facilities offer residents around 2.6 hours of care a day, said Janet Lambert, executive director of the association, which represents the province’s 430 homes. In the rest of the country, the average is three to 3.5 hours daily.

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