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Local health providers at greater risk of physical violence at work

Both my feet went underneath the gurney and the bottom part of my spine hit the floor and my head went through a steel rack on the wall
scott sharp and michael Hurley turl 2017
Injured worker Scott Sharp and Michael Hurley, president of the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions, talk workplace violence at the CUPE office on Lakeshore Drive Wednesday afternoon. Photo by Jeff Turl.

North Bay hospital staff are 18 per cent more likely to be assaulted at work than their provincial counterparts says a poll conducted by the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions.

In a poll of 1,976 workers conducted earlier this year, the union found 68 per cent of health workers had experienced at least one incident of physical violence in the hospital such as punching, hitting or having things thrown at them.

But that jumps to 85 per cent in North Bay and that should cause "deep concern" according to Michael Hurley, president of the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions.

He was in the city today to talk to media about violence in hospitals.

He blames the fact that years of staffing cuts have left too few beds and too few staff.

"People get on a stretcher, they'll wait for a bed, then there's pressure for them to get out. They may not think the care they're getting is very good. It's a time of high anxiety and anguish and some express it inappropriately."

Hurley says two factors make North Bay worse than average.

"It's got a significant psych component to it, a significant psychiatric facility within the health centre."

He also blames the P3 model... public-private partnership. 

"You've got a more expensive hospital to operate so your cuts have actually been deeper than other parts of the province. As a result, you've got fewer staff and fewer beds than elsewhere.

Scott Sharp, joined Hurley today. He's 48 and a personal support worker at Guelph General Hospital and knows firsthand what workplace violence is all about after being seriously injured by a patient in emerge in January 2015.

The patient was high on crystal meth.

"Halfway through my shift, I was called to assist in restraining a patient who was verbally and physically aggressive," Sharp told BayToday. "He got loose from a co-worker and punched me...uppercut me. Both my feet went underneath the gurney and the bottom part of my spine hit the floor and my head went through a steel rack on the wall."

Sharp had a CT scan which showed a spinal injury requiring surgery. The father of four was hospitalized for over three months, walks with a bad limp and uses a walker. 

It was then he realized the system that has been put in place to help workers is broken. Drug and medical expenses cost the family home.

Though he works 50 hours a week he's classified as part-time without benefits. He was confined to a wheelchair, on 40-50 pills a day with his wife as his caregiver. Sharp was diagnosed with acute chronic pain and severe depression.

He wants to see more accountability for patients.

"If you get behind the wheel intoxicated, there are obvious consequences, but to walk into ER under the influence and punch a nurse in the face it's deemed acceptable. We have a certain toxic culture here where you can go in and injure or sexually assault and it's okay. The guy that injured me wasn't even charged. the police said, 'why bother, you are in the healthcare field', so we have to change this paradigm to where there's an accountability factor.

"I just want the public to know there is an accountability for your actions. If it's a mental health patient the crown should have to take a look at the individual to see if he's fit to stand trial. It's not okay to be injuring health care workers."