ONA has heard many stories about health care professionals experiencing workplace violence. From being pushed and kicked to being spat on and verbally abused, our members share their stories so that it will inspire others to share their experiences and report violence to their employers.
We sincerely thank our members for telling their stories.
An RN was being assaulted by a patient when another nurse came in and tried to use her personal alarm. The alarm failed. She was terrified for her coworker as the patient had punched him many times in the face and had his arm around his neck. The RN tried to pull the patient’s arm off of the coworker as she thought that the patient would kill him.
Honestly there were so many incidents of violence that I have lost track. The patients that end up on a sub-acute medicine unit included many mental health patients. The staffing ratios were not safe with the multiple incidents of violence constantly. I have since left the employer partially due to the daily abuse I faced took its toll on my sanity. I feel such compassion for those that stuck it out.
Staff, security and a forensic patient were trapped in a hallway between two secured units for several minutes. The swipe cards were not working and neither were their personal security alarms. One of the workers said that she felt like they were “trapped like rats” wanting to escape. This event could have had very serious consequences.
A worker was assisting a resident with patient care. She approached the resident and spoke to him regarding starting his care. He grabbed her by the wrist and twisted it around his lap. This changed her position as she was moving to avoid dislocation. She was unable to break free. She called out for help and another worker came to her aid. This worker was punched in the head, neck and face and her hair was pulled. Then another worker tried to help and her hand was grabbed by the resident and twisted.
I was on a night shift in the emergency department when we had a patient on a gurney. He had been drowsy. Soon after, this patient became very aggressive and proceeded to chase workers. Although I am a big guy and instinctively tried to block him from doing so, I took a beating. I tried to fend off many blows, but I ended up with bruised arms and my scrubs were torn to shreds. A nearby bedside table was thrown at me and hit me hard in the shins.
Luckily, others came to assist and were able to get him to the ground. Security and police were called to assist us. Although my co-workers were supportive, management’s attitude was “it goes with the job.”
On a night shift, I was in the middle of doing a dressing change with a nursing student whom I was mentoring. We both heard on overhead page “Code Hands.” (a call for all staff to go to the unit.) I immediately thought, “That is my floor. What could be happening down the hall?”
We ran out of our patient’s room to help when I saw a patient running toward us chasing another nurse with his bedside telephone. He was swinging the receiver of the phone in a lasso motion, his IV had been torn out, and he was bleeding all down the hallway. We started screaming and running away from him. All of our patients were at risk at this time. Our hospital has no security and bare bones staff on night shift. The one male hospital employee assigned to the entire hospital was able to calm the patient enough to get him back in his room and sit in a chair.
About 5 minutes later, we heard the staff members who were with this patient yelling “Run, he’s coming again!” Once again, with a metal wash basin in his hands, he was chasing us down the hallways. The nursing supervisor on shift tried to call 911 but had to drop the receiver on the desk when he came chasing us through the nursing station. The 911 operator heard us screaming in the background and sent the OPP to the hospital. We didn’t have a safe place to hide from him, we worried for the safety of our patients as we tried to run and close all of their doors. All of our patients were terrified – it was utter chaos. The police were able to detain the patient and it was sheer luck that no one got hurt physically.
Our staff has begged for 24-hour security, cameras, a crisis plan, locks on our inpatient ward doors, etc. All staff involved that night have had a few debriefings and many of us – including myself – are now suffering from some form of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), anxiety and fear of returning to our workplace.
I have been harassed and threatened by a patient’s husband.
He told my manager that he hates me so much that every time he sees me he wants to do something bad to me. He has destroyed my career. I was scared for my personal safety and I was scared that he would hurt another patient on my unit. In the end, ONA helped me to negotiate an exit plan for me to retire. The hospital did not support me through any of this.
During my night shift, a male patient had become confused and delirious. He tried to get out of bed. When I went to the bedside, he grabbed me but I was able to turn to get loose. I was able to push the panic button in our ICU. I waited for help to arrive as I was the only nurse in the ICU for two patients. When helped arrived, we tried to re-orientate him and get him back into bed. Unable to he then walked all over the ICU and dripped blood everywhere. He became more and more aggressive throughout the night. He would repeatedly try and go into my other patient’s room so I had to constantly help him back. It was not until 0730 the next day that we were able to transfer him out of the ICU.
I went home in a panic and was completely overwhelmed. No one called me after my incident, not even my manager or occupational health and safety. I was never offered debriefing or counseling.
In more recent events at my hospital, the memories of that night have come back to me and I am experiencing symptoms all over again. I am very upset that no one was concerned for my mental well-being and I am on edge at work.
I work on a secure unit in a long-term care facility. I was in the dining room and noticed one of the residents spilling their coffee on themselves. My first instinct was to take the mug so as to stop the hot liquid from spilling on the resident. As I did this, the resident grabbed me by the back of the arm and pinched my arm. She broke the skin on my arm in 3 places and left a large bruise in the shape of her fingerprints.
I had a large male in his 30s screaming, swearing and advancing towards me. I had to get my other patient and myself out of the room immediately. I was afraid for our safety. Our hospital recently hired security, but they are only on duty from 1900-0330. I had to call the police.
I had the end of my finger bitten by a patient and, when I removed my glove, I expected to find the end of my finger in the glove. I have been hit, punched, slapped, and my glasses have been knocked off of my face by patients. I’m not sure what the answer is to these abusive situations, but I know cutting staff is not an answer.
A patient became agitated and verbally abusive to a registered nurse and a nursing student. The RN completed a report but was told by management that “since we were not physically hurt, it was part of our job as nurses.”
A patient was provided a vegan meal as he had requested. The patient didn’t find this meal appealing so he requested a regular meal. The nurse told the patient that the request will be entered into the hospital food-service system and it will be changed for next time. The patient accused the registered nurse of “lying,” used inappropriate language and swore at the nurse. The patient threw his tray which hit hospital staff.
A patient had come into the emergency department and was put into a separate room with two nurses and two security guards.
While one of the nurses was speaking to the patient, the patient took out her cell phone and threw it intently at the nurse. The patient then took the dog leash she had in her hand and hit the other nurse with it. The nurse who was struck by the cell phone had to go to the emergency room to be treated for her injuries.
Police and security intervened and charges were laid against the patient.
A worker was assaulted by a patient. The assault was so severe that an ambulance needed to be called for medical assistance.
The ambulance was called at 1045. It didn’t show up until 1205 because, as the emergency operator explained, “because the incident resulted from a violent event, the paramedics were entitled to wait for the police to arrive before they responded.”
This resulted in a serious delay of medical treatment for the worker.
We have ongoing problems on the Mental Health Unit at our hospital where ongoing violent incidents continue to occur. These include punching, kicking, spitting, pushing of guards, nurses and orderlies.
One challenge is having nurses on this unit with no training, knowledge or skills. They lack the ability to conduct an appropriate Mental Health Assessment and how to document it. They are not familiar with unit processes or procedures. Our Joint Health and Safety Committee (JHSC) – and with ONA’s support – we have issued 2 letters to our CEO to stop this practice. The Ministry of Labour has even been called in on this matter and has not done anything more than force the employer to create guidelines. They did not order this practice to be stopped.
Another challenge is our security guards who are there to protect everyone are getting injured as well. There were 99 Code Whites (violent patient) on this unit in July 2015. There are a few patients with behavioural challenges and who are impulsive and unpredictable. The employer states they have a robust safety plan on this unit and many safety measures in place like behavioural care planning (team approach), increased security, panic alarms etc. We feel they minimize the violence and violent acts and are putting up barriers to allow the JHSC to conduct or see any and all investigations and or investigation reports that take place on this unit.
There is a disconnect from senior management down to the JHSC where lots of work is still needed. They have finally agreed and scheduled a Violence Risk Assessment which will begin soon. We are hopeful we can implement some valuable measures that will keep our nurses safe who work on this unit.
An outpatient arrived at our unit for treatment. The patient was accompanied by a transport person and a security guard. We were not given any report about the patient prior to his arrival or even upon arrival. The aide left the unit and the security person walked away. I called the security person over to ask if there is anything I should know about this patient. She left after saying a few words about the patient that were not memorable or significant.
I approached the patient and told him I was going to attach him to the monitor and, as I touched his arm to apply the blood pressure cuff, he slapped my hand away hard and made a comment insinuating that I was trying to touch him inappropriately (he used more colourful words). His slap was so unexpected that it scared me. I left his bedside shaken and I told the other nurse in the unit that I was afraid to go near him and that we should approach him together with the doctor when the treatment was imminent. I wrote an incident report. My manager contacted me immediately and I went to occupational health. I had no visible signs of an assault, but I definitely felt abused by this patient.
I was sexually assaulted by a patient. I was deeply hurt, offended and overwhelmed by this assault. It was one of the most challenging events/days that I have ever experienced as a nurse.
After the event, coworkers shared other stories of this patient. The patient broke the TV and furniture, requiring the manager to monitor/supervise the patient during outbursts. All of this information was not shared on the careplan, nor were there warnings about the threats, sexual assaults etc. The only identifier I was aware of was the very small triangle symbol with an exclamation mark in it that is placed on the patient’s door to indicate that the patient has a potential for violence. I was shocked that my colleagues had normalized this patient’s behaviour and allowed it to continue. I called the police and the family and reported the sexual assault. The police came to see me and I completed a report with them. The police issued a warning to the patient.
The good news is that he patient was shipped to a facility that would be better able to diagnose and treat this patient for his aggression and violence.
After the incident, my manager asked to meet with me sometime that day but it never happened. The Chief Nursing Executive met me briefly on shift at the nursing desk and expressed an apology for the incident as did the other manager with whom I work. No employer agent has reviewed with me the circumstances around the sexual assault.
I worry about future critical events such as this and how would any of my coworkers handle this situation.
Many years ago, I was a new grad with two years of experience working in nursing. I was five months pregnant with my son and I worked on an orthopaedic trauma unit at a large hospital.
I walked into my patient’s room and I walked over to his bed and, as I bent over, he grabbed my stethoscope and choked me with it. I was unable to call for help as he was choking me so hard I could not breathe. I finally managed to get out of the choke hold and, as I was gasping for air and trying to find my bearings, he reached out and grabbed my right forearm. I couldn’t turn to reach the call bell or the code bell. All I could think of was he was going to punch me in the stomach and harm my baby!
I YELLED for help and it took 4 nurses and 3 security guards to get this guy off of me. It was reported to my manager and the answer was, “well, it’s not the patient’s fault, you work on an orthopedic trauma floor, you should expect some abuse from patients who have some brain damage!” That was as far as it went: it was brushed off because of where I worked! That was the end of my career in orthopedic trauma!
As a result of that incident, I stopped wearing my stethoscope around my neck.
A male patient was brought in to our hospital by ambulance and police. He was intoxicated on alcohol and multiple street drugs. The ER physician placed the patient on a Form 1 (mental health issues) and security came and placed the patient in restraints and the police left.
Around 11 p.m., a Code White (violent patient code) was called on an inpatient psychiatric unit. The three security officers scheduled on nights responded to that code. When the patient saw that security had left, he chewed through his restraints and bolted through the department. He was heading toward an area that held about 40 patients and visitors, many of whom were frail and elderly. My fellow RN saw him bolt and knew that the other patients were at risk. She yelled at him to stop and followed him. When I turned around, I saw her touch the patient’s arm and he pulled back his free arm in a pose to punch her in the head. I ran over in time to restrain his free arm and we held him while a Code White was called. It took security more than five minutes to arrive. In that time, 5 other staff, including the ER physician, came to assist us. We restrained the patient while he was yelling at us. He threatened to kill us if he got free, he tried to bite, kick and scratch. We knew that if anyone let go, we would all be at risk. Security arrived and he was restrained and the MD ordered stronger chemical restraints.
Because we worked together and have each other’s back, no one was seriously injured. We filled in a hospital employee injury report to make management, employee health, occupational health and safety, and ONA aware of the assault. My employer chose to use that information to discipline both myself and my fellow RN. We were disciplined for failing to follow the Code White policy and the Prevention of Violence in the Workplace Policy.
During the night shift, there is only one personal support worker (PSW) on per unit. The PSW was providing care for a resident. The resident’s roommate became agitated and grabbed the PSW by her throat before she could get away.
In long-term care, staff are routinely the victims of verbal and physical abuse. Residents with dementia will scratch, kick, spit and swear on a daily basis. These incidents will continue to rise as more dementia residents are mixed with residents with psychiatric issues.
A patient became violent, was banging on the bed rails, and attempted to kick staff. Staff tried to turn the patient to make him more comfortable and he started to kick and to try to hit staff.
A patient in the Emergency Department was put in restraints. The patient cursed at me, pushed me and kicked me in the leg. Considering we don’t have any security in the hospital it’s no surprise when nurses bear the brunt of this violence.
I was sitting in the nursing station when a patient opened the door. He charged in and began punching me in the head. The patient had a hold of my hair and I couldn’t get away. He kept punching me over and over in the head. I eventually managed to get out of the hold and began running. The patient followed me and ran after me. I then ran into a room and the patient then continued and pursued others.
I was working nights in a psychiatric unit with 2 RNs. I am at the desk preparing meds when I hear like someone is choking. I run to the patient’s lounge room and there is a patient that is literally choking another RN, both hands around her neck. If I had not intervened, I’m not sure what would have had happened. In another incident, I was working in a dialysis unit and a client is actually throwing dishes at nurses and he punched 2 staff members. There was another incident in which a staff member threatened to bring a gun and come back to kill people.
There are so many more stories of insults, grabbing, pushing, spitting…..
A patient was trying to climb off the stretcher. Concerned for his safety, I put my right arm under his left to prevent him from falling. Without warning, the patient swung his right arm and struck me on the jaw with a closed fist. I did not expect such a reaction as I was trying to help the patient. The blow was so hard it caused me to stagger backwards. Other staff came into the room and OPP were called. I am only glad it was me he hit because my female coworkers were much smaller than me and may have been more seriously injured.
Our facility does not have 24-hour security (1900 – 0300 only) and this is a real issue for staff when aggressive or violent people present themselves. Nor do we have any restricted access to our ER. Anybody can walk in no matter the time of day. I am genuinely concerned that something tragic may occur because of our lack of a secure and safe workplace.
I came onto my shift to a very busy triage. The department was full and there was no room to move any more patients in. The emergency physician was seeing patients at triage which often happens in this case. He asked me to perform some tests on a patient in the waiting room that he had put on a Form 1 (mental health issues). He told me the patient was very pleasant and cooperative and he could wait in the waiting room until we were ready to transfer him to the mental health facility.
The patient had a security watch in place because of the Form 1, however there were two Form 1 patients in the waiting room at that time. I needed to take the patient into another room adjacent to the waiting room because all of the equipment was in there. The guard couldn’t leave the waiting room, so in the interest of expediting care, I told the guard I was taking the patient into the waiting room exam room to do some tests. I said I would be out in 5-10 minutes and I’m leaving the door open.
I asked the patient to lay down on the stretcher so that I could perform an ECG. When I pulled up his pant legs to put stickers on them for the ECG, I noticed that he had a 12-14 inch long hunting knife in a holster on his right leg. I immediately told him to stay here, not to move and I went to get security.
When security arrived, I found out that the patient and his belongings had not been searched as per hospital policy for Form 1 patients. Security had used their discretion not to search him because they felt like he was a nice enough guy. After they conducted a thorough search of his person and his bag, they found an additional 4 weapons (2 of which were illegal).That patient could have shut the door and killed me in there. In the hectic triage environment, nobody would have come looking for me for at least 10 minutes.
I was attempting to triage an intoxicated mental health patient that had just been brought in by ambulance with OPP attending. She was attempting to climb out of the end of the stretcher and I was trying to convince her to get back onto the stretcher so I could finish my assessment. She got frustrated with me and slapped my cheek with an open hand. The officers stepped in and stopped her before she did anything further, but I still to this day remember the shock I felt at such an assault. I have also been yelled at, pinched, kicked, bitten, spit at and threatened in the 11 years that I have worked in ER. I wish I could say that I reported every incident, but sadly, I haven’t.
There was a client on a unit that had a history of extreme violence and drug abuse as well as trafficking. One worker did not respond to his request to get to him in a timely fashion, and the patient threatened to shoot her. He – despite being a parapalegic – could have very easily managed to get a weapon into the building and carry out this threat. The hospital’s response was to form 1 (mental health unit) him, however, the receiving facility did not feel he was a danger, thus only held him for 24 hours, then sent him back. The employer’s solution was to put him on another unit.
We have worked with a veteran who has dementia and is very unpredictable. I was assigned to him on day shift. His chair alarm was going off so I approached him calmly to see what he might need. He grabbed me by the throat of my uniform and began to shake me. This was the third reported violent incident for this patient with this admission to veterans care. As our geriatric population increases, we will be faced with less resources to deal with the increase in this kind of behaviour. We must have security and safety in our work environments. Nurses are too precious to sacrifice on the altar of fiscal constraints.
I was working at triage during a night shift when a man came to the desk. He asked for a bandage for a callous/burn on his finger and appeared to be under the influence of drugs. I told him that we are not allowed to hand out supplies to the public at triage, however if he would like to register then we can take a look at his finger. He proceeded to become verbally aggressive and demanded that I give him supplies. I repeated that we are not supposed to treat patients that are not registered in the emergency department. He then became very angry and told me to remember his face because he was going to wait for me after work. He told me to be very afraid because he was coming back for me after my shift was done.
It was just the two of us at triage because, at that point, we did not have a security guard permanently stationed there. I informed my manager and filed incident reports after of all my safety incidents at triage. I told her I felt afraid to be out there by myself. She told me to call security if I felt unsafe because there was no money in the budget for another guard. It took a patient threatening staff with a gun and the incident being picked up by the media to finally get a guard at triage despite countless years of complaints from RNs.
While working the night shift, a patient from the emergency department came into the recovery room with a large knife. The patient was threatening to harm himself and others. Working alone and being with a patient with an artificial airway, I naturally pushed the panic button on my phone. No one answered. So I then called the charge nurse in the operating room who did not answer the phone. Then I called locating and asked for assistance. All this time, the patient with the knife is standing in the doorway of the recovery room with the knife.
Within seconds (seemed like much longer), security, the police and the police dog arrived. Allegedly, this patient had gotten away from either security or the police in ER and they were looking for him. The police eventually apprehended the man in the hallway with the assistance of the dog. We were still in the recovery room with the door closed (the door didn’t lock at the time). We no longer do solo staffing and the door locks. Unfortunately, it took almost 2 years for this all to happen.
A patient was waking up from anesthetic in the unit after a minor procedure and became verbally abusive (swearing at staff) and physically abusive (striking out with hands and feet, spitting). The physician stated we cannot restrain the patient and allowed the patient to walk out of the department – followed by security and a crisis worker – wearing only a blanket and was bleeding on the floor from the IV and post-operative site. The patient struck a support worker with her foot, causing a minor injury to her shoulder.
It’s not just the physical abuse. The hitting, the scratching, the biting, the spitting…. It’s much more than that.
It’s not just the verbal abuse. The name-calling, put-downs, racism… It’s much more than that.
It’s not just the emotional abuse. The anxiety, depression and sleeplessness before shifts… It’s just so much more than that.
It’s the helplessness.
There is a patient that has been with us for 2 years. She is so physically, mentally and emotionally draining that she must rotate between units, giving the staff a so-called “break.” Even in writing this – I can’t fully explain what a shift with her entails. Had a water pitcher thrown at your head? Had death threats uttered to you? Have you ever had someone make you regret your career choice…?
I caught a patient stealing supplies from a treatment room. The patient reluctantly returned the items but was aggressive while doing it. Once the patient was completed with treatment, the patient was escorted to exit by our “hands off” security. Patient verbally threatened to deal with me outside the hospital in the community. The OPP was contacted and the patient was charged with “uttering threats.” My employer did nothing to support me. They did not charge the patient with theft. The OPP spoke to the management team and told me management “didn’t want to get involved.” The OPP placed visitation restrictions on the patient and a protection order to have no contact with myself or my family. My employer has failed to supply a picture or description of the patient in my department for others to be aware of my safety. Unfortunately none of my coworkers is surprised with the reaction of our management team.
On many occasions every nurse on my unit has been verbally, physically or emotionally abused by our patients. The most unfortunate part of this is that as nurses we blame it on their illness or their fear or assume that this behaviour is ok. It is terrifying to think that as a nurse, a mentally ill patient may hit, slap punch and spit at us while calling us horrible names and we call this ‘part of the job’. If the same patient would do this in the community to a police officer, or anyone else, action would be taken. With these patients despite reporting the violence to managers they often shrug it off and blame it on the illness. This is unfortunate because it leads to an unsafe workplace and often makes the nurses feel less likely to come forward with their incidents.
For 16 hours out of every 24, a registered nurse works in the emergency department alone. We do not have registration and the doctor is in a locked sleep-room hundreds of feet away. There are 2 nurses on the med/surg unit and 2 nurses in the labour unit. We are observed on CCTV if someone is at the desk to be a witness. We have been audited by the Ministry of Labour and the recommendation has been made that we not work alone. That was last year. We still work alone and there is no hope of that changing. We have had a window smashed. We are verbally abused daily. We have no recourse but to open the door to someone who says they have chest pain or shortness of breath or any number of life threatening complaints. Once they’re in, we are helpless. We have a panic button but we all know that someone can be injured or killed in seconds. Our closest OPP station is 15 minutes away.
I was working my shift in the psychiatric crisis unit adjacent to the emergency department. The unit has 3 stretchers and one reclining chair and is staffed by 2 RNs. This particular incident occurred when all three stretchers were full. The emergency physician assessed a client as being non-violent. While trying to settle the client, he lunged at his mother. A Code White was called and was attended by security and the appropriate responders. No sooner had that incident been defused that the client jumped up from the chair and wrenched my shoulder. He then grabbed the upper arm of the opposite side and pulled me towards him. Luckily, the security guards were in attendance and he was physically restrained. I suffered a severe strain to the shoulder and neck for which I have yet to be paid, one month later. I am still undergoing physiotherapy. How sad that an employee of 25 years is forced to fight the workplace and the Workplace Safety & Insurance Board (WSIB) for lost wages after an incident that was witnessed by several people and occurred through no action of mine.
I have worked critical care since 1976, 30 years at the same workplace. The number of times that I have been scratched, bitten, hit, and been verbally abused by both clients and their families is too many to count. Once I was kicked in the chest by a client. It does become “just part of the job.”
I work part-time as an evening charge nurse at a long-term care facility. I have been an RN for 39 years and returned to bedside nursing approximately five years ago. We have a resident on a unit whose adult daughter and son visit daily. Every day they insult the people giving care. They are verbally abusive to staff on an on-going basis. They yell, swear, humiliate the RPN every day and evening to the point of tears. I have addressed them and advised we will not tolerate being bullied, that employees are entitled to respect in the workplace and yelling, insulting, humiliating, degrading comments are not acceptable. I have felt on several occasions I should have called the police due to the behaviour of the 2 adult children. We are not supported.
While I was finishing my patient’s burn dressings, the patient got very aggressive all of a sudden and grabbed at my stethoscope at my neck and was trying to strangle me. I immediately called for the emergency bell, got help, but that was a very scary situation.
A patient called me a “b****” twice. I completed an incident form and sent an email to the manager and the ONA local president. After, I checked my voicemail and there was a message from occupational health. She minimized the incident stating at least I was not “physically injured” and to give her a call if I had seen a doctor. I’ve read Bill 168 and I also know that being called a b**** by him is unwelcome. As well, I am being proactive at stopping ALL violence against nurses which includes both physical and mental abuse.
As the evening charge nurse in a long-term care home, I am responsible for 204 residents as well as supervising all the staff, once management has left for the day. On a particular evening, a male resident entered the residents’ dining room before all the residents were seated. The resident approached a male personal support worker (PSW) and demanded his plate. The PSW asked the resident to sit down, telling him that his meal would be brought to him. Before the plate was ready to be served, the resident again approached the PSW, struck the PSW on the chest and then reached up and putting both hands around the PSW’s neck and attempted to choke him. The PSW was able to break the choke hold before he succumbed to it.
My story takes place in my patient’s (91 years old) room. I was attempting to administer night-time medication. I asked the patient to open her mouth to have some applesauce with her medication. She looked at me and spit directly into my face, her spittle was on my face and in my left eye. I can’t describe the level of degradation one feels at being spit at in such a way. It did take me a couple hours to feel myself again. I can honestly say I harbour no ill thoughts toward this patient. However, it does leave me with a sense of helplessness. No individual should have to be exposed to such action in the workplace.
Today, while working in the emergency department, I received a patient in to one of my assigned rooms. During the time the patient was in my care, he had a few periods of verbal aggressiveness. Once he was discharged by the MD, I was about to take out his saline lock when he hit my right arm, then grabbed it with both his hands, and started to wring the skin on my arm very tightly, and dig his nails into me. I had to tell him several times to let go, and I even tried to get his hands off me with my one free hand. Eventually he stopped and let go.
I was working nights and I am at the desk preparing meds when I hear a sound like someone is choking. I run to the patient lounge room and there is a patient that is literally choking another RN, both hands around her neck. If I had not intervened, I’m not sure what would have happened.
A patient attacked me, tried to choke me, punched me in the abdomen, and scratched me. It’s a toxic workplace.
A patient became violent, banging on rails and attempted to kick staff. We tried to turn the patient to make him more comfortable and he started to kick and hit staff. The patient then bit through an endotracheal tube.
A patient cursed at me, pushed me, and kicked me in the leg, and continued to push her sister as well. Considering we don’t have any security in the hospital, it’s no surprise that nurses bear the brunt of this type of violence.
While working as a nurse, I had made a decision to hold off any add-on cases that were not critical or urgent due to lack of staff and a high number of patients from the elective list still remaining in the unit. I voiced patient safety concerns to the OR team leader who passed it on to the surgeon who was pressuring the OR to go on with a case involving a child. The surgeon confronted me in the middle of the unit in front of patients and my colleagues and, as he towered over me, he gestured with his pointer finger up in the air and in my personal space and yelled, “I’m going to tell that child’s parent that it is your fault they have to wait longer for surgery, and that you won’t let me proceed.” I stood my ground and insisted that, due to patient safety concerns this case would have to wait, until the unit could safely care for more patients. Inside I was left shaking, humiliated, and fearful that he would cause me more grief and continue to treat me with disrespect.
We were verbally and physically attacked on a daily basis. A patient threw a wheelchair at me one day because they were angry about the long wait. A patient pushed me by poking me with his finger. I was spat on by a patient. I was sworn at and called horrible names.
A nurse was covering a patient and a boyfriend called to enquire how the patient was doing. He was rude and swearing on the phone. The boyfriend called again and continued to be rude, swearing at the staff member covering patient.
When I was a student, I was placed on the geriatric ward of a major mental health facility. I presented to the nursing station on my first day, ready to work and eager to learn. Without hesitation, the nurses assigned me to do morning vital signs on a patient. Naively, I got straight to work, entered the patient’s room, asked if I could take his vitals and proceeded to put on a BP cuff. The next thing I knew, he was pulling me over the bed rail by my arm, making lewd gestures and comments. The nurses heard me yelling and came to my aide. Luckily, I escaped with only a bruised arm and hip, but it frightens me to think of what else could have happened.
I had a patient (A) who had acute pain and was sobbing and moaning in her room due to the pain. I also had another stable patient who was ready to be discharged with family to go home (B). I was planning in going to patient A first as she was having acute intolerable pain. However, I was stopped by a family member of patient B. Family of B said that I need to attend to patient B first as she was in the unit for more than 8 hours and she was exhausted with the wait. I explained to family of B that A was in a lot of pain and I need to see her first. There were no other staff members available to offer assistance as they were all busy. Patient A and B were in the same room and were separated by a curtain. Family of B started to scream and yelled at me. She said that nurses are not allowed to say no. Nurses must do what family demands.
I was being called into the office and was being belittled by the manager without a union representative. I was not able to ask for a union rep as my manager asked me to see her suddenly and immediately after my shift. My manager said that a family member filed a complaint towards me stating that I did not care for their wait time. I tried to explain to the manager what happened but she said that other patient can wait and that patient satisfaction is very important. She did not allow me to review my nursing notes even though I requested. She scolded me for not being sensitive and caring. She also suggested that my spoken accent is considered to be blunt and aggressive, which therefore led to patient dissatisfaction. After the incident, I felt like I cannot make proper judgment as I will always be harassed by management. I started to believe that in order to survive in this workplace, I have to ensure my manager receives high patient satisfaction scores. However, I chose to resign from this workplace as this is not the kind of nursing profession that I dreamed of.
The catalyst for putting workplace violence issues on the front burner at a Greater Toronto Area hospital was an incident that took place in an extremely busy Emergency Department in June of 2013.
“There were 14 Form-1 patients (held for 72 hours of assessment), many of them well known to us, but not enough staff or security, nor was the staff adequately trained to handle the situation,” says an ONA member.
A nurse from the float pool had been assigned to a mental health patient that had been brought in by police. At the time, there wasn’t a trained mental health nurse available to manage the patient load. The patient lost control when told he couldn’t leave and punched the nurse to the ground. He also chased the psychiatrist, who suffered fractures in his hand, and went after everyone in the vicinity. Finally, cleaning staff tackled and subdued him.
Since the incident (and several others), the ONA member has seen a shift in awareness among his members.
“In the past, nurses would shrug it off when patients were abusive as it was a part of the job. When we first initiated the flagging violent patients, some of the staff was concerned about labeling people. Now, it’s a regularly accepted practice and it signals that we always need to be aware and alert and develop the best possible care plan for our patients to protect them and our members.”
Nurse sustained facial injuries
I was working in an Extra Care Area of our mental health unit. This area is supposed to be staffed with primary nursing but, because we were short-staffed, I was doing prime nursing on my own with 4 patients.
At dinner time, a patient became agitated after not getting what he wanted to eat. I was holding his plastic dinner tray and he proceeded to slam the dinner tray into my face resulting in my front teeth being struck and cutting my lips and gums resulting in bleeding.
The police were contacted regarding the assault and attended the scene of the event. Police encouraged me to go home and I was not supported by my manager as the unit was already short staffed, I did end up going home for the remainder of my shift.
As a result of this incident I suffered damage to two of my teeth and required two root canals and two crowns. WSIB did not cover the entire costs of required treatment.
I was never once asked about my injury or subsequent treatment required by my manager, zero support or acknowledgement occurred.
When I brought forth concerns about what could be improved they were dismissed.
Pregnant nurse punched in the stomach
I was caring for an elderly female who had been completely independent before her admission for chest pain. For some reason, this patient was becoming more resistive to participating in her care and was refusing to do things she could and should continue to do like walking or using the toilet. She called me to help her go to the bathroom. After spending five minutes supporting, encouraging, and cajoling her to sit on the edge of her bed, she decided she would go in her pants instead, and I “could clean it up, since that was [my] job.” When I continued to offer encouragement to walk instead, she leaned over and punched me in the stomach. I was six months pregnant, and she knew it. My husband and I had been trying to conceive for five years and three IVF attempts. I had to ask another nurse to care for that patient the remainder of the shift.
Nurse punched and spit on
I have been beaten on my upper arm while providing care to a patient. I have been kicked while trying to swab a patient and two other nurses holding. I have been punched and spit at over my ten years of being a nurse.
RN has been physically and verbally abused
• been subjected to physical aggression including being scratched, kicked, punched, grabbed, bitten, sexually groped, objects thrown toward oneself and staff.
• been subjected to verbal aggression including derogatory comments, racial slurs, death threats to oneself/family/friends.
• have witnessed this on many occasions happening between clients and healthcare providers/staff, and client to client interactions.
Constant verbal abuse from patient and his family
I work in an Emergency Department and I have been verbally abused by a patient and their family. After being yelled at in the patient’s room, I left the situation. The family continued following me down the hall and calling me fat and mooing at me. They were upset because I was doing my job and had to ask hard questions about the family member’s drug use, he replied “I don’t ask you how many donuts you eat a day.” The patient and his wife began to moo at me. I was so embarrassed and was very hurt about the incident that night. It was hard going into other patients’ rooms and these patients commenting on the actions of this patient, it brought up the feelings over and over.
ER Nurse was nearly punched in the stomach while seven months pregnant
In the eight years I’ve been an ER nurse, I have been pushed, pinched and had my breasts grabbed. I have seen my co-worker being picked up by her throat and thrown. I have been kicked in the stomach, and recently had a patient try to punch me in the stomach when I was seven months pregnant. Almost every shift some sort of verbal assault takes place to one of the nurses working.
Patient used IV pole to swing at staff
I am retired now, I remember an incident that happened. A post-op patient was delusional from either the pain medications and/or post anesthesia. He got out of bed to leave and grabbed an IV pole and started swinging it at us as we tried to reason with him. Eventually we got the pole from him so no one was injured, thankfully. It is not uncommon to have post-operative patients strike out at the nurses.
RN suffered a concussion
I had a patient who had been slightly confused and was having changes in levels of consciousness (LOC). At the time, we were attempting to work him up to determine the cause of the changes in LOC. The patient was pleasant and had no history of being violent, he was easily reoriented throughout the night. Close to shift change he had removed his own IV, and another nurse had asked me to come assist her with insertion. I was standing behind her preparing the IV supplies when the patient suddenly kicked me in the neck. The other nurse’s glasses were torn off her face by the patient. He broke her wired framed glasses in half and used them to stab another nurse who had heard the incident and was attempting to provide assistance. A Code White was called and we were able to get the situation under control. I had a concussion and had to be off work for many weeks due to this incident. Unfortunately this is not the only incident I have had with violence and I am sure it will not be the last.
RN witnesses assaults and verbal abuse regularly
I am a registered nurse working in an emergency department of a small town hospital. Although our town is small, we are a tourist area and host an exploding population particularly throughout the summer months.
As an ER nurse, I have witnessed workplace violence in all forms from expressions of patient verbal frustration and aggression, to physical assault of coworkers by patients.
Although our hospital does not staff a psychiatrist, our ER often provides care for aggressive and violent mentally ill patients in crisis. Although we do staff a security officer, they are only available between the hours of 7 pm and 7 am. At all other times we can rely only on a doctor-ordered locked door, our two-day workshop training in non-violent crisis intervention, Code White protocol and the local OPP detachment.
I have personally witnessed the physical assault of our lone elderly security officer, a pregnant co-worker who was intentionally struck directly in the belly with a patient’s purse, and a physician who was suckered punched in the face by a patient. These are the extremes but daily, particularly in the summer when we are extremely busy and employ only one physician per shift, I am verbally assaulted by frustrated patients or their family members as my face is the first seen in the department.
At the end of the day we are people with feelings and families and would like to return home safe to them at the end of the workday.
RN hit in the head causing a concussion
I was punched in the head by a client with a prominent history of violence as an inpatient on our unit. The client had been recently discharged from the same unit. My assault occurred on this client’s very next admission for the same behavioural issues that was the previous admission.
The attack on me occurred when I was attempting to remove anything that could be used as a weapon from the client’s room anticipating the need to seclude them briefly in the room until the client was able to de-escalate. While the client was running around the locked Close Observation Unit I was moving quickly to clear the area when another staff member approached down the hallway quickly to see what the commotion was about.
When the client saw this nurse, the patient charged at the nurse screaming. When I attempted to stop the client from in all likelihood coming into physical contact with my fellow RN by grabbing the client by the arm, the patient hit me in the head with their free limb causing me to receive a concussion. It was my second diagnosed concussion as a Psychiatric Nurse in a career of 17+ years that I love. I did everything according to hospital protocol immediately following the incident.
No education or re-education of staff and no increase in staffing in subsequent similar circumstances has occurred since my attack and no intent by management has been shared, discussed, or announced to do any of the things that need to be done to try and prevent this sort of thing from happening to another nurse in the future.
Daily incidents of workplace violence; kicking, punching, slapped
Unfortunately there’s workplace violence daily where I work. I’ve been kicked, punched, slapped and had items thrown at me by patients several times and I’ve only been working on this unit for not even a year. I’ve witnessed patients hitting, biting, spitting, and throwing stuff at colleagues. A patient punched a colleague in the face and kicked another in the stomach. Management asked if the nurse got too close. Another colleague got tackled by a client.
Recently I was evading an aggressive, escalating patient and was on modified duties for my low back pain. We shouldn’t have to go to work to be abused. I’ve been called nasty names and sworn at almost daily. I’m tired of hearing, “It’s their behaviour.” This “behaviour” can lead to physical assault on staff. Seems to me not much is being done about it.
I was to have violence prevention training, which is mandatory, but that hasn’t happened. There aren’t enough alarms to go around to staff. We should have our own alarms, I feel. Staffing is always an issue. Full-time RNs have retired and are being replaced with part-time for the most part. Staff are going without breaks. You’re not able to always complete your tasks. Staff and patient safety is compromised.
This is the most violent job I’ve ever encountered and I’ve been an RN for 24 years. I like the staff I work with. It’s a good team and at the end of the day I know I made a difference. It’s good to see patients get better but when is the violence toward staff going to end?
RN left employer due in part to daily abuse
Honestly there were so many incidents of violence that I have lost track. The patients that end up on a sub-acute medicine unit included many mental health patients. The staffing ratios were not safe with the multiple incidents of violence constantly. I have since left the employer partially due to the daily abuse I faced took its toll on my sanity. I feel such compassion for those that stuck it out.
RN’s elbow and wrist twisted
I was caring for a female patient who had been identified several times to management as a risk for patient and staff safety related to unpredictable behaviour. She had been locked in a Psychiatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) room related to aggressive behaviours including swearing, name calling, taunting, threats including bodily harm and death, spitting at staff and much more.
The psychiatrist responsible for the patient asked me to see if the patient can go for 15 minutes outside of her room. I did not oblige this physician, as she had thrown a glass of water at me, accused me of stealing her medications, and lunged at me earlier in the day. The next day, her behaviour did not display outward aggression apart from her baseline irritability, so the psychiatrist asked again to see if the patient could go unlocked for 15 minutes. Five minutes into the trail, the patient was at the nursing station door, screaming and threatening me with bodily harm and death, and when I returned her to her room, she ripped my nametag off my neck, and when I tried to retrieve it, she twisted my elbow back and my wrist back with the intent to harm me.
RN was kicked in the chest, “knocking the wind out of me”
I have experienced more than one incident of violence at the hands of patients and had little support from the hospital administration. In 2001, while working on a geriatric medical floor we had a patient who was a danger to others. He was restrained in bed due to threat of physical violence. The restraints were removed for care and security was present. As soon as the ankle restraint was released he forcefully kicked me in the chest knocking the wind out of me.
Nurse punched in the nose; finishes shift with an ice pack
Two nurses, a security guard and I went to give a patient her medicine. She refused to take the oral medication and we all went to leave her room. The patient jumped up and punched me in the nose. The patient then clawed at my colleague’s arm and drew blood and kicked us all repeatedly. Additional security arrived and restrained the patient. My nose was not broken, but I finished my shift with an ice pack applied to my nose for the rest of the night.
Constant verbal abuse in patient care area
I work in an area where patients are given appointments by the patient appointment office. Patients often swear and are belligerent to front-line staff about any waiting or if they think they were given the wrong time to arrive. We are constantly subject to verbal abuse.
Nurse sexually and physically assaulted; after the incident, she was rushed back to work
I was providing care to my patient when he grabbed my buttocks. I told him it was inappropriate and he agreed and apologized. I continued to provide care with my back to him when he grabbed my neck and started choking me. I told him to let me go as he was hurting me. I thought to myself, “This is it, this is how I die: three months into nursing and this is how it happens!”
He now had my braids and was whipping my head around and kicking me in the stomach and thighs. He started to punch my face, my shoulder – anything. A few attempts later, I caught the punching hand and turned it upside down. I was overextended and beyond panicked and out of options. I asked the only mobile patient in that quad room to go and find another staff member. The other patient staggered out and found my partner.
I asked my partner to go get more back up. I then heard a Code White on the overhead speaker system. Within seconds, security was removing him but not without consequence – some of my hair/braids went with him. I suffered whiplash to the neck, upper and lower back strain and a shoulder injury, all which are unresolved to date. I have migraines and experience a lack of sleep due to nightmares and anxiety, which are now part of my life. I was diagnosed with Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as well.
The nine weeks after the assault were nothing but tumultuous between non-payment by WSIB and being forced to return to work before I was ready. My health-care providers knew I needed more time to heal from the physical and psychological trauma, but I was rushed back. Nobody seemed to really care that I was assaulted and needed to heal.
Patient pushes RN’s head into bedrail
A patient was in restraints which became loose and his IV was dislodged. There were two RNs in the room, one attending to each of the patient’s arms. The right arm restraint was tightened and the nurse left the room to review the chart to see when the patient was due for his next medication. At this time, the other nurse was cleaning the area where the IV had become dislodged and the restraint was still loose. The patient grabbed the nurse’s hand and dug his nails in his palm. The nurse said that it hurt and asked him not to do it.
The patient grabbed the employee by the back of the head and pushed the front of his head into the bedrail. The employee fell backwards hitting the back of his head on the bed table and he fell to the ground.
Assaults and harassment a regular occurrence in workplace
There has been a great increase in violence in my workplace. Several of our staff have been physically injured and on modified duties. Others have been emotionally abused and harassed/threatened regularly by patients. Some unfortunately have been traumatized and are struggling to come in to work and others have not yet returned to work. Staff are also harassed by the organization to return to work just hours after being seriously assaulted and are denied pay if they decline “modified duties.”
RN getting beaten; her colleague tries to help
The police had brought in a man to the Emergency Department. The police put him in a private room and, as soon as the police left, the man wandered out of his room into the area where my colleague and I were working. We both asked him to go back to his room.
The man ran at me with a clenched fist. I was punched and kicked many times in the head and neck. My colleague tried to help and we all ended up on the floor. The man had a tight grip on my hair and, once on the ground, he continued to knee me in the head chest and legs. When security arrived, I was finally able to break free. I received a concussion and multiple bruises and contusions all over my body and I am still finding new ones. I am thankful for the quick-thinking and bravery of my colleague. Had it not been for her, my injuries would have been much worse.
RN thrown to ground, her face clawed at and kicked; management’s response is to cut an RN on the unit
A patient needed medication and security was called to assist with the administration.
Two colleagues and I were in the hallway waiting to go in to the room to administer the medication. Suddenly, the patient jumped off his bed and ran into the hall. He grabbed me by my shirt and hair and threw me to the ground. The patient then jumped on top of me and clawed and kicked my face. I blocked my face to the best of my ability to avoid injury.
The patient then wrapped his leg around my torso so I couldn’t move. Three correctional guards came and pulled the patient off of me. I was sent home after I completed all of the paperwork and speaking with the police. Charges were laid.
My employer contacted me the next day to make sure I was returning to work that evening. I was told to stay after my 12-hour shift for a meeting to review the events. Many promises were made by my employer to increase safety on the floor. It is now two months after this assault and the only change that has occurred is that my employer removed our third staff member because management said that the third nurse was no longer needed on this unit.
The Ministry of Labour visited our floor four times in the past two years and yet no direction has been received from the Ministry.
We are sitting ducks at this point waiting for the next assault and I’m praying it does not result in a permanent injury. We all truly feel someone will have to die before major changes occur.
As the worker Co-chair of an employer’s Joint Health and Safety Committee (JHSC), one ONA member identifies that there are concerns about the increasing incidents of verbal and physical abuse and overall workplace violence.
The problems are primarily due to understaffing, failure to report incidents and the lack of training in how to deal with workplace violence and verbal abuse. There also needs to be a comprehensive risk assessment done at the facility, as well as recommendations on how to make improvements and prevent incidents.
“We have had issues of patient/family aggression in most of the units and it is increasing. Everyone is concerned and frustrated with workplace violence/harassment in our workplace. And patient frustration is taken out on our front-line nurses/staff,” says the member.
“We are working with the JHSC and employer to empower staff and engage managers to deal with health and safety concerns. We are trying to educate them to report every incident and to train staff and managers from the top down on how to deal with violent incidents. We have been asking at JHSC for a risk assessment throughout the whole facility because the incidents are just increasing every day.”
ONA and the worksite’s other unions are asking their employer to work with them to address the increasing incidence of workplace violence, including implementing policies and procedures that protect both staff and patients.
“We want to work together to prevent violent attacks and to be prepared when they occur. And we want our employer to recognize that there are issues that need to be fixed,” says the member, adding that another problem leading to the increase in violent incidents is the failure of staff to report them when they occur.
“They need to understand that violence is not part of their job,” says the member.
Understaffing is also a major concern and can lead to incidents of violence and abuse.
“When the volume of patients and acuity in the ER is high, we need to be moving patients up, but there isn’t enough staff on the units,” says the member.
“The nurse-patient ratio/unsafe workloads have gone up and it is unsafe. There are going to be problems and injuries because we can’t monitor critically ill patients adequately. All members at our facility feel that it is very unsafe and that their license is on the line on every shift.”
The result, says the member, is that nurses are feeling very unsafe and stressed, and families and patients, who are angry at the system, are lashing out at staff.
A frightening incident of violence in her workplace still haunts an ONA member in a long-term care facility.
When a resident turned violent and was found kicking a non-verbal frail elderly woman, the ONA member removed the aggressive resident from the area and called for a Personal Support Worker (PSW) to distract the resident until she could prepare medication.
The PSW thought the aggressive resident had settled down, but when the ONA member returned, the resident had wandered off and began attacking another small, frail, non-verbal woman in a wheelchair, punching the back of her head with closed fists.
Fortunately, the ONA member was there to intervene and avert a tragedy, giving the aggressive resident the medication. The resident was subsequently removed from the area by the ONA member and a PSW. Urgent paperwork was done, phone calls were made and the aggressive resident qualified almost immediately for transfer to a 90-day assessment and treatment facility, but the resident’s heartbroken family had refused consent.
“We had no choice – we had to medicate the elderly resident with powerful drugs. It’s the only immediate tool we have in long-term care when severe behaviour problems occur,” says the ONA member, who still chokes up when she recalls the incident.
“It’s like post-traumatic stress disorder. The image is horrific, and I could barely talk when I called my manager to report what happened,” the ONA member says.