For Tina Champoux, getting injured at work is just part of the job.
Working as a health care assistant for the last 30 years in the capital region, her shoulders are in constant pain from a slip on the floor and lifting/pushing heavy patients throughout the course of the day.
Recently, her lower back was injured when an elderly women with dementia cornered her in a bathroom. Champoux was pushed against the sink, forcing an open drawer into her back.
“I was trying to get her to the toilet, but she was resistive. Every day you get resistive care. You can prepare for it, but you’re never ready. If you go left, they are probably going to go right,” said Champoux. “Often I’ll go home with a sore back and I did. I go to a massage once a week. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be able to move.”
The 52-year-old has noticed an epidemic throughout her years as a health care assistant. The bulk of people she works with have dementia, but the disease is now affecting more young people, some in their late 40s. Many of them also require more complex care.
Injuries in the workplace are common, along with violence caused by residents being bored and taking their aggression out on staff.
Some of Champoux’s colleagues have gone home with black eyes and broken ribs from unruly patients.
According to statistics released by WorkSafeBC, health care assistants experience the highest number of injuries of any occupation in the province.
During the last five years, WorkSafe accepted more than 15,000 time-loss claims in the occupation, mainly caused by overexertion, violence, slips, trips and falls. Health care assistants represent seven per cent of all accepted time-loss claims and 37 per cent of all accepted time-loss claims in the health care sector — and the numbers are rising.
Between 2011 and 2015, accepted time-loss claims for health care assistants increased by 28 per cent from 2,400 claims in 2011 to more than 3,300 claims in 2015.
Earlier this month, Esquimalt played host to the first conference in B.C. dedicated to the health and well-being of health care assistants, who work in homes, residential care facilities and hospitals, providing personal care to clients and patients with increasingly complex care needs.
Stephen Symon, manager of industry and labour services for WorkSafeBC, focuses on injury prevention, and said it’s no surprise the health care system is seeing a higher percentage of patients with dementia than 20 years ago. The care, however, is becoming more complex as more individuals come into long term care facilities with multiple issues.
“This isn’t unique to B.C., this is being experienced all across Canada and throughout North America. We have an aging population, an aging workforce, the care for these individuals is becoming more complex, more challenging and we see that reflected in the volume and types of claims that are experienced by these front line workers,” said Symon, noting the injury rates of health care assistants has been high for a while, but there has been a slight improvement during the last couple of years.
Workplace violence, however, continues to be an area of concern. Out of all the time loss claims for workplace violence in the province, just over 60 per cent are for those in the health care sector.
“This isn’t violence as in a robbery at a convenience store, this is reactive behaviour. They have dementia, they’re scared, but nevertheless they are striking out against the health care workers.”
In an effort to address the problem, Symon said a great deal of resources and attention has been put towards it, such as better education and training so staff know how to approach and communicate with an individual who has dementia. Health authorities have also jumped on board, adopting a standardized program for violence prevention, education and training.
At the end of a typical work day, Champoux often goes home feeling physically and mentally exhausted from taking care of and entertaining patients all day. About nine of the 12 patients she currently takes care of at Priory (Hiscock & Heritage Woods) in Langford have been flagged for aggression or violence of some sort. Some days she’s come home in tears.
“At one time you had these cute little ladies and these sweet gentlemen you were looking after because that’s where they went. Now they are keeping them at home and the families are encouraged to look after them and they are putting the more complex, hard to deal with people here because there’s nowhere for them to go. Somebody has to look after them,” said Champoux, noting staffing shortages are also adding to the problem.
“I love my job, I love the elderly. I enjoy them, I have fun with them. If I didn’t like it I wouldn’t be doing it….At one time we had a good thing going on, but I think that everybody is suffering. It’s just no good.”