Nurse wins back her job and freedom to speak out on patient violence


Sue McIntyre speaks at rally to end the silence about patient violence

An Ontario arbitrator has ruled the North Bay Regional Health Centre was wrong to fire her in February 2016 for talking in public about the violence nurses regularly face at work. He has ruled that Sue should get her job back, with pay.

The arbitrator concluded there is a “broad acceptance that workplace violence is prevalent in the hospital sector.” He also pointed out that hospital administrators themselves are well aware of it.

The hospital fired Sue for telling the truth in public. She spoke about the day-to-day reality of patient attacks on medical staff. She also said speaking about it could get you in trouble at work. And it did. She got fired.

Hospitals absolutely refuse to admit workplace violence is a problem: they refused a union request to “agree that we share a common goal of a workplace free of violence”; and, they refused a union request to post signs to indicate that violence in the hospitals would not be tolerated.

“We go to work to help people get healthy—not to get hurt,” said one nurse at a rally in support of Sue.

Sue turned to her union to get her job and free speech rights back. And they did.

No more silence about violence

The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) hired Sue to work in their ongoing campaign to expose and reduce patient attacks on hospital staff.

A February 2016 rally held on the issue in North Bay attracted between 400 and 500 people, including workers from other industries who have confronted violence in the workplace.

The CUPE campaign has also included radio, television and social media advertising, media conferences by hospital staff disabled in attacks at work, a major university study on the issue, and a persistent and escalating campaign of actions by its members.

CUPE staffer Michael Hurley says hospital workers face a harsh reality: “The expectation is that being hit is part of the job—where no one is allowed to speak accept people who are authorized.”

Rights denied, money wasted

The hounding of Sue McIntyre out of her job for blowing the whistle on her boss was bad enough. But it goes beyond a workplace issue. The fact the hospital did it to silence her means they also violated her guarantee of the right to free speech under our Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

In addition, there is the issue of how many hundreds of thousands in healthcare dollars were wasted to simply satisfy a management desire to crack the whip and punish an employee. Hurley points out: “I know that CUPE spent almost $500,000 defending Ms. McIntyre and I suspect the costs at the North Bay hospital are much, much higher. This is money that should have gone to keeping beds, programs and services open in North Bay.”

Ending violence against healthcare workers

A recent CUPE poll of 2000 healthcare workers found that 68 percent of them had experienced physical violence on the job during the previous year.

Hurly said the results reveal “a toxic environment of physical and sexual violence,”in Ontario hospitals.

“Staff feel unsupported by their managers and are often blamed for the assaults they have suffered, which compounds their trauma. Health care staff felt unsafe talking about the issue of violence with the hospitals.”

One nurse interviewed by the CBC said the frequency of acts of violence has increased over the past decade, coinciding with the spending cuts. The cuts mean not enough staff are employed to care properly for patients, who then take out their anger and frustration on care staff.

Healthcare workers endure a wide range of horrific injuries on the job. A university research study found these include sexual assaults, life-altering concussions, shattered faces, fractured bones, lost teeth, brain injuries, and bites.

The researchers carried out 13 group interviews. Everyone who participated said they feared their employer would find out and discipline them.

CUPE says hospitals need to take immediate action to admit and deal with the hard fact of staff vulnerability to patient violence against them. But that alone won’t be enough.

The root cause of the problem lies with too few staff asked to do too much. The only solution to that is to restore funding cuts and give hospitals all the money it takes to hire enough staff to deliver the services we want, pay our taxes for, and deserve.

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