I recall the story of a BC nurse who had worked in elder care for over a decade. Throughout this time she never expected that her attempt to help a patient would turn violent; however one day an elderly resident suddenly became agitated. While the nurse was providing care the resident bit her thumb so badly that it sent her to the emergency department and kept her off work for three months.

Emotionally and physically, she was really distraught. When she remembers what happened, to this day that nurse still feels shaky.

Such stories are not uncommon in nursing. There is a misperception that there are only certain areas where nurses are victims of violence, such as in street nursing or hospital emergency departments. In speaking with members across British Columbia about this issue, the reality is that nurses are exposed to violence on the job in all health-care settings.

Every single day, throughout BC and other parts of the country, nurses provide care — without prejudice — for those who are most in need of it, including victims of abuse and violence. However, statistics to WorkSafeBC’s 2015 annual report, the overall injury rate due to workplace violence has increased over 50 percent since 2006. In the past decade, 9,231 injury claims due to violence have been accepted from health care and social services workers — that’s nearly three injuries a day.

In 2017, the BC Nurses’ Union (BCNU) launched an awareness campaign: Violence. Not Part of the Job. that called on health employers and government to improve working conditions for nurses. The solutions BCNU wanted to see from the campaign included trained security personnel stationed around the clock at worksites, enhanced workplace security and legislated changes to the criminal code for harsher sentences for those who perpetrate violence against nurses.

Recently, BCNU announced a joint initiative with the Interior Health Authority (IHA) that will see more security officers staff the emergency department at Kelowna General Hospital. The impetus for the yearlong pilot project was driven by BC nurses and other health-care workers who had reported feeling unsafe. BCNU regularly proposes such progressive solutions and I am optimistic that there will be more of them in the future.

When it comes to nurses, there is a chronic underreporting of violent incidents. We need to educate management, the public, nurses and other health care professionals that violence is not part of the job.

Nurses are the backbone of the Canadian health-care system. Across the country, there are more than 400,000 regulated nurses providing care to patients and their families in their greatest times of need. It is critical that violence is removed from the care setting to best allow nurses to provide quality safe patient care.