York long-term care study makes big news

Canadians working in long-term care facilities face an "extraordinary" amount of physical violence, unwanted sexual attention and racism – far more than colleagues in other countries with publicly funded health-care systems, wrote The Globe and Mail March 11 in a story about a study by York graduate student Albert Banerjee and Professor Pat Armstrong of York’s Faculty of Arts.

"We knew that there was quite a bit of violence," said lead author Banerjee, a doctoral candidate at York, citing a previous study. "What really shocked us this time was the difference between Nordic countries and Canada."

The study found that 43 per cent of personal-support workers in Canada endured physical violence – including slaps, bites, punches, hair pulling, wrist twists and spitting – on a daily basis, nearly seven times the violence experienced by workers in Denmark, Finland, Norway or Sweden.

"Our international comparison shows that the level of violence in Canadian long-term care facilities is extraordinary," the study notes.

The study reiterates previous research findings on the correlation between poor working conditions and levels of workplace violence. Nearly half the workers surveyed in the York University study reported that they work short-staffed daily. Another 34.4 per cent said they worked short-staffed on a weekly basis. In contrast, only 15.4 per cent of workers in the Nordic countries reported daily staffing shortages.

"We definitely don’t want people to think it’s a problem with the residents," Banerjee said. “There are some very significant differences in working environments and working conditions between Nordic Europe and Canada, and the principal difference is short staffing. In Canada, they are doing too much, too fast, with too few resources," he said.

  • Elderly and demented residents are attacking their caregivers in Canadian nursing homes at alarming rates, wrote the Toronto Star March 11, in its story about the York study.

Frustrated with inadequate staffing levels, nursing home residents are lashing out with fists, feet and verbal and racial abuse at workers in the facilities, the report says.

"Our research shows that the level of violence in Canadian long-term care facilities is appallingly high," said Albert Banerjee, the study’s lead author and a doctoral candidate in sociology at York. "Our study finds that violence is a constant and ongoing part of working in Canadian long-term care facilities. This situation…is out of control."

Pat Armstrong, a sociology professor in York’s Faculty of Arts and co-author of the study, said the levels of daily violence for workers in Canadian facilities was about seven times those recorded by similar surveys in Europe’s Nordic countries.

Armstrong said there is no indication or likelihood that the institutionalized elderly in Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Finland are less violent than their Canadian counterparts. Nordic facilities, which are also run under socialized health-care programs, simply have more staff and thus happier, less "stressed-out" residents, she said.

  • Pat Armstrong said many caregivers feel violence is just part of the job, wrote The Canadian Press March 10. But the example set by Nordic countries show it doesn’t have to be, she said. “This study is a kind of wake-up call,” Armstrong said. “What we would say is, pay attention. This deserves to be treated as a problem that could be addressed.”
  • "What we found is disturbing," said Pat Armstrong, in the story written by CanWest News Service March 10. "Canada’s levels of violence towards long-term care workers are significantly higher than the other countries we looked at…. Canadian long-term care workers have to rush, they have to work under pressure and they often work alone, a situation which places them at risk for violence,” said study co-author Albert Banerjee.

The study was funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, CanWest noted.

  • Global Television reporter Mike Drolet interviewed several people, including Albert Banerjee, for his report on the study March 10. “York University researchers found nurses are repeatedly spit on, punched, kicked, sexually assaulted and in Eulalee Thompson’s case, subjected to racist slurs,” said Drolet.

In Canada, our workers are telling us they’re running around like chickens with their heads cut off so they don’t have time to respond to residents’ needs,” said Banerjee. “They’re doing too much too fast, with too little support.”

  • "We were told by Canadian workers in the focus groups that they’re rushing all over the place," Banerjee said in the Winnipeg Free Press March 11. "Sometimes they’re feeding three or four people at the same time and have to end up shoving food in their mouths. This isn’t good for the quality of care. Residents feel threatened and their personal space is invaded."

That wasn’t the case in Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden where workers experienced less violence, said Banerjee. "The differences between Canada and Nordic Europe are shocking," he said. Workers in the Nordic countries said they had input in planning their workdays and ended up with more time for patients, said Banerjee.

"They seem to have more autonomy and flexibility in terms of planning their work so they can be more responsive to the patients’ needs," he said. "Their working conditions are the conditions of care."

  • Pat Armstrong also spoke about the study on Toronto’s CFRB radio and on CTV News March 10. The study was also featured on the CBC, CTV’s “Canada AM”, Global Television and other local TV stations across Canada. CBC Radio covered the story as did many local radio stations March 10.

Students learn about dream jobs through high school co-op program

Thanks to Keswick High School’s cutting-edge cooperative education program, Samantha Kovach is well on her way to landing her dream job, wrote the Georgina Advocate March 6. Kovach, 17, published her own magazine outlining other students’ personal experiences while on co-op placements. She has already been accepted for the Seneca College public relations program that will see her earn a bachelor’s degree in the fourth year from York University.

The abortion debate isn’t over

On campuses across the country, students who oppose abortion and want to debate it are actively suppressed by pro-abortion student associations that trade on the conceit that the abortion debate was settled 20 years ago by the Supreme Court, wrote the National Post in an editorial March 11. Pro-life groups at Ontario’s Lakehead University and universities in BC, for instance, have found themselves shut down for their views by student unions. A February debate on abortion at Toronto’s York University was cancelled after the president of the Graduate Students Association spuriously likened such a debate to discussing "whether or not you can beat your wife."

If universities have one overriding mission, it is to encourage inquiry and debate. Student unions should not be permitted to use their powers to muzzle unfashionable opinions.

Thankfully, some school administrators are getting this message. York University has stood up for free speech by arranging for another debate on abortion – using facilities that are beyond the purview of the student union. We hope other universities across Canada will follow York’s lead. In Canada today, there is one abortion for every three live births. Students want to talk about it. Let them.

Teen moms beat odds to succeed

York alumna Melissa McColl (BA ‘03), now a parent-child counsellor at Jessie’s Centre, the non-profit resource centre for pregnant and parenting teens on Toronto’s Parliament Street, founded by journalist June Callwood, was herself a teen mother at 19, wrote the Toronto Star March 11. She turned to Jessie’s for help when she was a young mother alone in the city. She was also encouraged by Jessie’s staff to go to college. She took a cooking and catering course before switching to early childhood education at Seneca.

After picking up straight A’s, she attended York’s Faculty of Arts, where she majored in psychology. Getting that degree was the most wonderful achievement, she says. "It was amazing. I loved it and felt so proud."

Dunn’s killers still at large

Former York student Chantel Dunn‘s family and friends recently marked the two-year anniversary of the evening she was gunned down on Feb. 6, 2006, by members of a well-known street gang, wrote the Mississauga News March 6. Toronto Police homicide detectives have made progress in the case but the 19-year-old Mississauga woman’s killers remain on the loose.

Det. Wayne Fowler, lead investigator in the case, has said that while police are constantly receiving clues from the public and exploring all leads, they still need more information to nab the culprits. "There are people out there who know who the shooters are and why this happened," Fowler said in a recent interview. "I’m urging them to come forward and help bring closure to this young woman’s family."

Dunn was in her second year at York University and hoped to practice corporate law, her friends said. She was excelling in school while also holding down a job.

NAFTA ain’t what it used to be

It used to be that US television commentator Lou Dobbs was the voice railing against free trade, wrote Chuck Gastle, an adjunct professor in international law at York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, in a Toronto Star opinion piece March 9. Now, he is positively part of a chorus that includes Senators Clinton and Obama, who declared in Ohio that they will cancel NAFTA without labour and environmental reform.

Guyana-born lawyer alleges systemic racism

Two weeks after rattling Justice Canada’s cage with an incendiary allegation of “overt racism,” Mark Persaud (LLB ’91) is recounting the extraordinary details of his life, wrote the Ottawa Citizen March 9. “Justice did me in,” he moans. “It sucked the soul out of me. It eviscerated me.”

Persaud, who fled his native Guyana for Canada in 1983, is scarcely less scathing when he speaks about the Liberal Party of Canada, on whose executive he served before his high-profile defection to the Conservatives in January 2006. “They don’t like people like us,” he is saying, “because we’re not ‘yes people.’ We have our own ideas, we can think and we are passionate about issues and moving the agenda.”

This Mark Persaud fellow, you may be thinking, sounds like one difficult dude. Probably can’t get along with anyone. Wrong-o. “He’s really a bridge-builder and a sophisticated advocate,” says his good friend Ed Morgan, past president of the Canadian Jewish Congress.

Will Dextre mark the end of Canada’s space program?

The latest piece of Canadian space technology will be launched into orbit aboard the shuttle next week, another big splash for the nation’s small but feisty space program. But even as Canada celebrates another milestone in its nearly 50-year history of involvement in space, some critics are wondering: Will it be the last? asked the National Post March 8.

The Canadian-built Dextre module – the nickname given to the Special Purpose Dextrous Manipulator, the "hand" for the massive Canadarm2 robotic arm – is going to the International Space station, the last component in Canada’s contribution to the 16-nation project.

Ben Quine, a professor in York’s Earth & Space Science & Engineering Department, says Dextre’s arrival in orbit may well mark the beginning of a new era in Canada’s role in space exploration, but it is not yet clear what that role will be. "Canadarm was a great Canadian success story," he says. "But to some extent, we’ve lost our way in the space industry in this country.”

Quine says space and related industries worldwide are worth about $200 billion a year, and that Canada’s share of that business – about $2 billion a year – could dry up without a greater commitment from Ottawa to support it. "If we don’t support our industry, we risk losing our share of that market," he says. "And it’s a market that’s going to get extremely competitive in the next few years with India and China moving into space.”

Anxious patients use more painkillers

Being anxious before an operation may lead to higher demands for morphine from patients after surgery, a new study suggests, reported Canadian Press in a story published March 8 in the Brockville Recorder and Times. The study, published in the Canadian Journal of Anesthesia, shows that patients who fret about upcoming surgeries tend to push the dispensing button linked to an intravenous morphine pump after surgery more often than patients who are not anxious.

"The study tells us that our emotional and psychological state before surgery is related to how much pain we have and how much morphine one takes by pressing for more painkiller," said Joel Katz, a York University psychology professor in the Faculty of Health. The study is significant because morphine is used to control pain, but it has some negative side effects such as grogginess and depressed respiration, and some of these side effects can prolong hospitalization.

Oil is Canada’s ace in any revisiting of NAFTA

Both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are threatening to opt out of the North American Free Trade Agreement if elected, which means re-negotiate, a position that is quite tenable particularly with a protectionist Congress. This really is about more than politics – this threat is genuine, wrote J. Michael Robinson, QC, an adjunct professor at York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, in The Globe and Mail March 10.

What should Canada do about [problem areas in the] laws in a NAFTA renegotiation? Nothing. It should make a "big fuss" as in the Free Trade Agreement negotiations but only as a negotiating tactic. Canada now can use the World Trade Organization regime instead of the largely ineffectual NAFTA one.

Jurors warned to avoid lure of ‘CSI effect’

A Toronto jury took only four hours last week to acquit Ivan Mendez-Romero of killing his gay lover, Janko Naglic, and some on the losing side blame the "CSI effect," wrote the Toronto Star March 10.

James Stribopoulos, a professor in York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, has heard complaints from Crown attorneys about the CSI effect. But he retains his faith in the jury system. "If there are 12 people in that room and someone is sitting there saying, ‘but they don’t have any DNA,’ and yet there is still in every respect an overwhelming and compelling case, the power of reason employed by the other 11 will convince the person watching too much TV to get a grip on reality."

Women prepare to fight for Olympic berth

There are hordes of others who give up so much just to play a sport, wrote the Vancouver Province March 8. Take the case of Victoria-born York alumna Sarah Forbes (BA ‘98), the 35-year-old captain goalkeeper and veteran, who will lead the Canadian field hockey squad into action at the 2008 Summer Olympic Games in Beijing, China. Because the team headquartered this year in Vancouver under coach Sally Bell, she had to take a leave of absence from her job as a Toronto paramedic to spend the year training for her last kick at the Olympic can, so you can bet she’ll be focused and feeling the pressure. And many on the squad are doing the same, putting their jobs and schooling on hold for this effort.

"We’re going to be in tough in Victoria but we’re playing well right now and, if we play to the level we should, there’s no reason why we can’t get to the final against Korea," says Forbes, who has coached at York University when not playing.

Outdated term ‘Oriental’ has no place at city hall: prof

It’s time for elected officials in Ontario to retire the term "Oriental" because it’s outdated and offensive, says a York alumnus who has written on the subject, wrote CBC news online March 7. Anthony Chan (PhD ’80), a former broadcaster who works as a Canadian studies professor at the University of Washington, made the comment after a Toronto city councillor referred to "Oriental people" this week in a debate about shopping on statutory holidays.

Chan, who obtained his PhD from York University, said the term is really an ethnic slur that should be laid to rest. Chan said he understands the term "Oriental" continues to be part of some people’s lexicon but the acceptable, and more accurate, term to use these days is "Asian." Chan first raised the issue of the inappropriate use of the word "Oriental" in a paper he wrote in 1978, while a student at York University.

‘Jewish Studies’ in vogue on California campuses

"These are boom times for Jewish studies on campuses," said Professor Sara R. Horowitz, humanities professor in York’s Faculty of Arts. These are strong, if not downright exuberant, words for normally cautious academicians like Horowitz, president of the Association for Jewish Studies, an organization of some 1,700 American and Canadian academics in Jewish studies, wrote the Jewish Journal online March 9.

"When I was a graduate student and attended AJS meetings, the presented papers were usually about rabbinics, Talmud and Jewish history," said the New York-born Horowitz, who directs the Centre for Jewish Studies at York University. "Now the field is so much broader; it has become an essential part of understanding Western culture and civilization.

On air

  • Kelly Holloway, president of York’s Graduate Student Union and vice-president of York’s Student Centre, spoke about freedom of expression and the cancellation of a debate on abortion, on CBC Radio’s “Cross Country Check-up” March 9.
  • Roberta Iannacito-Provenzano, professor in York’s Department of Languages, Literatures & Linguistics, Faculty of Arts, and York student Elisa Colonna, spoke about an up-coming stage production of an Italian classic play, on CFMT-TV’s “Studio Aperto” March 10.
  • Reg Whittaker, professor emeritus in York’s Faculty of Arts, spoke about Canada’s mission in Afghanistan in a keynote address given at Laurentian University, reported Sudbury’s CIGM-AM radio and Sudbury sister station CJMX March 7.
  • Bernard Wolf, economics professor and director of the International MBA Program in the Schulich School of Business at York University, spoke about the North American Free Trade Agreement and the affects on both the Canadian and American economies, in a phone-in show on Regina’s Blue Sky (CBK-AM) radio March 7.