Alberta health care workers claim they’re receiving more harassment and violence on the job

Overworked staff, long wait times and a nearly two-year-long pandemic are just some of what an Alberta doctor says is making the existing problem of abuse in hospitals even worse.

“It’s not at all uncommon to have very kind of verbally abusive and sometimes physically abusive patients and families,” said Dr. Paul Parks with the Alberta Medical Association.

He believes those issues are increasing in all areas of any given hospital.

“It’s hard when anybody experiences it, but I think the nurses probably get 10 fold worse,” Parks told CTV News Edmonton.

It’s a problem that is not unique to Alberta.

The Canadian Medical Association says code whites, which are used to alert health care workers of threats of violence, are being called on a regular basis.

In an episode of the association’s podcast, it estimates that more than 50 per cent of emergency department nurses will be sexually harassed or assaulted this year.

The CMA also says most ER doctors believe that violence on the job has been going up for several years and is accelerating as the pandemic drags on.

“Everybody’s testy, and patients have shorter fuses, families have shorter fuses,” said Toronto ER physician Dr. Howard Ovens.

“The people who are responsible for their actions, some competent patients, many family members are acting out, especially around things like visitor restrictions as well as wait times.”

In December, the CMA called on the federal government to make abusive behaviour towards medical staff a criminal offence.

The AMA is calling for more resources and better training to deal with dangerous situations.

“We have to be careful because if we don’t change the environment, even once this pandemic does eventually end, we might not have any nurses or staff around to care for sick people,” Parks said.

In a statement to CTV News last month, AHS said it is committed to providing a safe and healthy work environment for all employees and volunteers. Workers can receive support through the crisis management team or the Employee and Family Assistance Program.

“We’ve recently seen an increase in the number of AHS staff accessing our mental health supports and online learning opportunities to support their mental health and well-being,” an AHS spokesperson wrote.

“As an organization, we are exploring and always trying to find ways to improve our resources and supports in place to ensure our staff get the right resources to support and promote mental health throughout the pandemic.”

With files from CTV News Edmonton’s Joe Scarpelli

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