After failing to adequately protect health care workers from violence, one Ontario hospital has received a slap on the wrist: a fine of $80,000. The Ontario Court of Justice imposed the fine, late last week, following a guilty plea by Southlake Hospital in Newmarket, Ontario.
The case stemmed from a January 2019 incident that left two workers injured after being violently attacked by a patient. After being brought to the hospital by a York Regional police officer, the patient was flagged as being a moderate violence risk. Later that day, a registered nurse and a security officer were both attacked as they attempted to deliver food to the patient, resulting in serious injuries to both workers.
“This meager fine is an insult to thousands of health care workers across Canada who are sick and tired of being assaulted – of being kicked, slapped, spat on and punched – in the workplace and sick and tired of employers who continue to act like violence in the health care sector is just part of the job,” said Linda Silas, president of the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions.
“Right now, we have a culture that treats these incidents as unavoidable – as par for the course. What we need is a culture that values health care workers and actively seeks to ensure their safety.”
Indeed, the Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development’s investigation into the incident identified a number of hazards that the employer had failed to address.
The Ontario Nurses’ Association had hoped that the courts would impose a penalty that is not only commensurate with the harm that was caused, but that would act as a deterrent to other health care sector employers.
“Decisions like this will have nurses and health-care workers feeling like they are expendable, said ONA President Vicki McKenna. There has to be a better way to ensure health care employers in this province obey the laws and ensure their front-line staff have the safe workplaces they need and deserve.”
McKenna said the RN continues to suffer life-changing effects from the attack to this day.
In June 2019, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health produced a report on violence in health care, which outlined a number of recommendations aimed at addressing the endemic problem of violence in health care. The CFNU continues to work with governments to see these much-needed measures to protect health care workers implemented across the country.
As part of its report, the HESA committee included a number of recommendations submitted by the CFNU, including a recommendation to amend the Criminal Code. The new Criminal Code language would require a court to consider the fact that the victim of an assault is a health care sector worker to be an aggravating circumstance for the purposes of sentencing.
In Canada, the number of violence-related lost-time injuries among frontline health care workers increased by close to 66% between 2006 and 2015. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, nurses are reporting an increase in violent behaviour from patients and their family members, who are frustrated by new rules meant to stem the spread of the virus.
Take action now: It’s time for our federal politicians to implement the HESA report recommendations and make our health care settings safe for workers and patients. Click here to tell your elected leaders that violence isn’t part of the job.