AHS reports increase in harassment toward healthcare workers

Organizations in the province are urging the public to be respectful toward those working in hospitals and other healthcare settings.

LAKELAND – As stress in the province’s healthcare system continues, Alberta Health Services (AHS) is reporting an increase in patient-to-worker harassment or violence toward healthcare workers over the last few months.  

On Oct. 31, AHS released a Public Service Announcement (PSA) asking the public to help make sure “healthcare facilities remain safe and secure for patients, families, and healthcare workers.” 

According to AHS, “Staff and physicians mostly have safe and positive experiences with Albertans. However, incidents of patient-to-worker harassment or violence do happen in AHS facilities.” 

Kerry Williamson, AHS Communications, confirmed with Lakeland This Week that healthcare workers have reported increased harassment and abuse in recent months, resulting in the release of the PSA. 

One recent example of a harassment incident involves a female nurse in Lethbridge, Alta. 

According to information released by Lethbridge Police Service, on Oct. 11 a nurse was allegedly choked, assaulted, and threatened to be killed by an individual brought to the Chinook Regional Hospital. 

The suspect, Jolt Jessen Black Water, was arrested, charged and has since been released from police custody. Black Water is scheduled to appear in court on Nov. 16. 

Heather Smith, president of the United Nurses of Alberta (UNA), says the recent AHS announcement calling for kindness was “a very positive thing to do.” 

According to Smith, UNA surveyed 1,500 nurses for its April 2022 annual survey. The survey was conducted by third-party Viewpoints Research, “so it’s not done by us… we don’t have any activists or leaders involved in it.” 

Smith said the survey found that “only 28 per cent [of nurses] said they did not experience either physical or non-physical violence.” Meanwhile, 36 per cent indicated they experienced physical violence in the workplace. 

Seventy per cent of respondents said they had experienced non-physical harassment like verbal abuse, insults, and threatening gestures, according to Smith. She added that around 65 per cent stated they “felt that there had been an increase in violence over the past year.” 

Smith said the increase in harassment and abuse of nurses might be related to frustration. “If you’re waiting in an emergency for hours and hours, that can cause a lot of stress,” which can “unfortunately” lead to lashing out, whether verbally or physically. 

“There’s been a lot of stress in healthcare” due to staff shortages, says Smith, leading to closures and downgrading of services across Alberta. She says there simply is not enough staff to match patient demands. 

When asked if the increase in violence and harassment may result in nurses not recommending nursing as a career to others, Smith said, “It’s going to be very difficult for me to say.” 

“The things that contribute to workplace satisfaction like the will, the desire, and the pride in your profession,” as well as “the amount of violence or disrespect,” are factors involved in whether nurses will recommend their profession. 

Smith says the public and the workforce need a constant reminder that there is continued stress in healthcare right now, but that stress is no justification to take it out on someone else.  

“Violence… that’s not the way to interact with healthcare workers, or grocery store workers, or anybody else,” she says. 

“Tolerance and respect are really important.” 

That message was echoed in the AHS announcement.  

“People often visit our facilities when stressed and emotional, and AHS hospitals and other facilities can be busy. But harassment and disrespect are never acceptable.” 

Patients can share their feedback and concerns regarding healthcare services or other support services received through the Patient Relations Department and its patient concerns resolution process, according to AHS. 


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