Health PEI is concerned it is in the midst of a significant increase in violence directed toward health-care workers on the Island.

The provincial health-care agency has been tracking violent incidents for years, and says the rate of violent incidents has remained fairly steady over the last few years, with 762 in fiscal 2015-16 and 793 in 2016-17.

But in the first seven months of 2017-18 there are already 639, which is on track for an increase of almost 40 per cent. Tanya Tynski, executive director of human resources for Health PEI, said while some of the increase may be improved reporting, the agency is moving to protect its workers.

‘We’re wanting to address it as quickly and most appropriately as possible.’— Tanya Tynski

“We have seen a spike, an increase, in 2017 up to year-to-date, so we’re wanting to address it as quickly and most appropriately as possible,” Tynski said.

“Some of the incidents that would be included in that would be verbal abuse, physical abuse, sexual assaults, any threats of violence.”

In addition to the incident reports, a survey from January brought to light stories of abuse in the workplace.

Physical and verbal abuse

The survey asked if workers had in their previous five shifts experienced an incident of physical violence, and 11 per cent said they had. A further 24 per cent had experienced verbal abuse.

“When I look at some of the data across the country the numbers aren’t different from other jurisdictions, but still, having over 10 per cent of our respondents report physical abuse is concerning,” Tynski said.

The incidents are happening across all departments, she said, from home care to emergency to long-term care facilities.

Problematic patients

The survey found some workers were experiencing a fear of coming to work, particularly if they were assigned to patients they had previous trouble with.

A large number of the incidents reported involve patients struggling with addictions, a mental health crisis, or dementia. Verbal abuse can be a particular problem with dementia patients.

“Residents or patients may not necessarily know that they’re verbally abusing, but at the same time they are,” Tynski said.

Solutions to these problems can be particular to the individual patient, she said.

Protocols in place

Health PEI is also looking at larger, long-term solutions, such as considering safety issues for new buildings and renovations, with looking at physical safety a part of construction and design.

Working alone will continue to be necessary, Tynski said, especially for home care, but there are protocols in place.

“People have regular check-ins,” she said.

“They carry cell phones, and they understand the appropriate protocols, that if they feel they are at risk they know what to do.”

Health PEI has been partnering with one of its unions to discuss solutions for the problem. A recent symposium invited workers to discuss their experiences of violence, and those stories will be part of trying to find solutions.

Health PEI will also repeat the survey it did last January in January of next year, to help track how the situation is changing.