Nurses made at least 256 injury claims to the Workers Compensation Board of Manitoba between 2013 and 2018, with the rate of claims escalating by 311 per cent during the five-year period.
The Manitoba Nurses Union obtained the WCB data through a freedom of information request, which was shared with the Free Press. It showed the percentage increase in violent incident, assault and harassment claims by nurses peaked in 2016 — between that year and the previous year, claims more than doubled, and they've continued to rise.
MNU president Darlene Jackson believes rates of violence against health-care workers are rising due to provincewide struggles with methamphetamine use and an ongoing Winnipeg hospital consolidation plan, causing undue stress.
"We're seeing increasing patient volumes in tertiary hospitals. We're seeing less beds available for admissions. So patients are laying for hours, and sometimes days, in an emergency department, waiting for a bed to be admitted into," she said, noting ER wait times remain longer than the national average, leaving patients and families more anxious.
"They want their loved ones to receive timely care and that often leads to sort of short tempers where people are stressed out," Jackson said. "It may become physical, but there's a lot of more verbal (abuse)."
The union leader pointed out the WCB data likely only represents a snapshot of the larger picture when it comes to violence staff are experiencing. Many won't report verbal threats or being spit on to the WCB, since those incidents are more common and harder to prove.
Post-traumatic stress disorder and psychological stress are also more difficult claims to make, since the WCB requires they have an incident to pinpoint, Jackson said, though both may be the result of cumulative problems. The union has known nurses to have more success filing psychological stress complaints than reports related to PTSD.
Manitoba Health Minister Cameron Friesen said the government has taken steps to improve worker safety, but it must continue to be vigilant.
"We'd like to see those numbers come down. We believe some of the investments we've made will help. But clearly there is more work to do," he said.
Friesen said security measures have been enhanced at Winnipeg's Health Sciences Centre, including reducing the number of building entrances and exits.
Staff have also been provided with panic alarms, he said.
"These measures are effective, but clearly we are seeing — and the numbers continue to bear out — that there are mental health issues presenting in hospitals that are very significant," Friesen said.
He said hospitals are also getting busier, with ambulance offloads on the rise.
NDP Leader Wab Kinew said the methamphetamine crisis has led to a lot of unsafe situations for health workers, and the government must make greater efforts to deal with it.
Jessica Botelho-Urbanski covers the Manitoba Legislature for the Winnipeg Free Press.
Larry Kusch didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life until he attended a high school newspaper editor’s workshop in Regina in the summer of 1969 and listened to a university student speak glowingly about the journalism program at Carleton University in Ottawa.
Updated on Friday, May 31, 2019 at 12:33 PM CDT: Clarifies the numbers only refer to violent incidents, assaults and harassment.
4:26 PM: Clarifies data point that peaked in 2016 was the percentage increase, not the total number.