The elderly man pinned Cindy Martin against a wall, his arms blocking her on either side, his tongue darting in and out of his mouth, before she was able to break free.
Martin, a long-term care worker, loves caring for her elderly residents, the incident early in her career foreshadowed the harassment and abuse she would suffer in the workplace over the last 38 years.
The 59-year-old Bradford resident works as a registered practical nurse (RPN) at York Region’s Newmarket Health Centre long-term care facility and worked for 27 years at the region’s Maple Health Centre long-term care home.
Over the years, Martin, vice-chair of the Canadian Union of Public Employees CUPE Local 905, has been kicked, hit, punched, chased, sworn at and spit on. Nearly 30 years ago, she was scratched by a woman in her 90s and she still has the scar on her arm, Martin said.
“I went to redirect her into the dining room to go to her seat and she just turned on me like a cat, and she hit me so fast, it was like a rattlesnake,” she said.
“People in the community think we’re taking care of all these nice little grannies and grandpas, and that’s (sometimes) not the case . . . Without adequate time to spend with people, that’s when we get hurt.”
Martin will be among the long-term workers taking part in a day of action in the workplace Friday and a rally at Queen’s Park on April 30 demanding more protections for employees.
Martin’s co-worker, Vennie Chittenden, also loves caring for her residents. But on her shoulder are scars left by a resident who bit her while she was dressing him.
The personal support worker (PSW) said she was off work for three days so she could be tested for hepatitis and HIV and get a tetanus shot.
The man also broke her co-worker’s teeth and gave her a black eye when he kicked her during the same incident.
Five years ago, Chittenden was off work for six months after an elderly woman with a behavioural disorder pinned her legs under her electric wheelchair.
She also been sworn at, kicked and punched.
Martin and Chittenden have also seen many colleagues abused, and racist names hurled at them.
Two new reports indicate 88 per cent of long-term care staff in Ontario experience violence on the job.
Employees are bloodied and broken physically and psychologically, researchers of the Breaking Point: Violence Against Long-term Care Staff study reported.
“Long-term care homes in Ontario are largely staffed by women. Their work is based on compassion and care,” Dr. Margaret Keith said in a statement.
“And yet, they themselves are expected to tolerate an environment in which physical, verbal, racial and sexual aggression are rampant. Adding to their burden is the implicit threat that they will be disciplined or fired if they speak publicly about these abuses.”
The study revealed a culture of abuse, a lack of uniform protections and regulations, and understaffing and underfunding.
Meanwhile, a poll from the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions and the Ontario division of the union released concurrently with the study, found 88 per cent of PSWs and RPNs have experienced physical violence.
Sixty-two per cent of PSWs and 51 per cent of RPNs are victims of at least one incident of physical violence a week, 69 per cent of ethnically diverse staff experience racial harassment, 75 per cent believe they aren’t able to provide adequate care due to workload and low staffing and 69 per cent want to leave their jobs.
“This study and the polling results reflect the anguish and emotional and psychological pain of the long-term care workforce in the face of an unrelenting wave of verbal, racial, sexual and physical violence,” Ontario Council of Hospital Unions president Michael Hurley said.
He called on the provincial government to adopt minimum staffing levels and statutory protecting for workers and on the federal government to treat sexual and physical assaults against employees as criminal offences.
The region takes the safety and well-being of its long-term care staff seriously, Brian Swainson, director of seniors’ services, said in an email.
“When incidents of violence occur, we work closely with staff, physicians, residents and families to assess the situation and identify areas of improvement and early intervention strategies to prevent the incident from occurring again,” he said.
“We are committed to ensuring all of our staff are equipped with best practice and evidence-based education, training, tools and policies to prevent, manage and address violence in the workplace. We continue to communicate and enable a zero-tolerance approach to violence in the workplace at our homes, and we have empowered our staff to call for support in situations where they feel their safety or the safety of our residents may be impacted.”
Lisa Queen is a general assignment reporter for YorkRegion.com and its sister papers. Reach her via email: email@example.com