Leadership with Kenora’s hospital say if the current streak of physical and verbal abuse continues, they will continue to lose more key members of staff – an especially vital issue during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

President and CEO of the Lake of the Woods District Hospital, Ray Racette, says that unfortunately, the healthcare sector has long-been dealing with reports of abuse, but those reports have steadily increased throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, especially in recent months.

“When we look at 2021 compared to 2020, verbal abuse and assault to staff is up 300 per cent. That’s very significant,” said Racette, during a media conference with regional media members last week over the issue.

Racette explains the hospital compared abuse rates in June, July and August in 2020 and 2021, with physical abuse reports also being up 25 per cent. He also noted both of these statistics are likely under-reported by staff members.

“We’ve had staff being punched to the point where they lost several shifts of work. They were really shocked and upset. We’ve had staff go from full-time shifts to working casual because of the challenges of what they’re hearing in their shifts that’s upsetting them. It’s really upsetting. We’re simply trying to provide care.”

Racette says other reports have included harmful messages, harassment, bullying, name-calling, ethnic insults, verbal abuse and physical abuse – which has resulted in emotional distress, physical injury and in some situations, decisions to stop providing emergency care or to leave the hospital altogether.

“Abuse is hard for us to see happen to our healthcare workers. Our staff are really tired. They continue to be very committed. We’ve had staff shortages. Staff are working very hard, under pressure. It takes a toll on staff.”

The Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario published a report in March of 2021 that found that the province’s nursing workforce could see an over 15 percent loss over the next year between those planning to retire and those who said they’re likely to leave the profession.

“This is an important issue for us as a hospital. If the situation doesn’t improve, we could lose staff over this type of issue – and if we start losing staff in areas where we’re very tight like the Emergency Room, it impacts our ability to [provide] that service.”

To help alleviate the ongoing issue, Racette says the hospital has implemented a number of new security measures to assist staff. They include:

- Additional security in the Emergency Room
- More support for staff in the Emergency Room
- Accessing Patient Care Navigators through community partners
- Police assistance
- Employee Assistance Programs
- Mental Health and Addictions Staff to assist patients
- Individualized care plans for patients with frequent disruptive behavior
- Bans from hospital service if required

Racette notes that Kenora’s hospital is not the only hospital or healthcare facility experiencing this kind of harassment and burnout – it's happening nationwide as the pandemic continues to rage on.

“It’s the intensity and frequency compared to last year. This year, it’s been far worse. From our point of view, when we ask people to wear a mask or we ask questions about vaccination, we’re not challenging the individual in terms of their feelings, we’re administering the science that we need to administer to keep people safe.”

Racette notes the majority of abuse reports have come from the Emergency Department, likely due to it being the first point of service that’s available 24/7.