Violence against staff members of long-term care facilities has become “normalized,” affecting worker morale and health as well as quality of life for residents, according to the results of a new study that also suggests ways to improve working and living conditions for staff members and residents.

“This study adds new evidence and confirms previous scientific investigations that suggest violence is a significant risk factor in the day-to-day experience of long-term care staff,” said James Brophy, Ph.D., one of the study’s authors. “We found that physical and verbal abuse, as well as sexual harassment, have been allowed to become normalized within these work environments.”

Two of the researchers are from the University of Stirling in Scotland and the third is from Ontario, where the research was conducted at seven long-term care facilities, but the authors believe their findings could help inform future prevention strategies for senior living communities around the world.

The research team interviewed 56 long-term care staff members between 2016 and 2018. Workers reported that immediate violence against staff members typically occurs when residents, including those who have dementia, are fearful, confused or agitated. Underlying causes, the employees said, include understaffing; the impersonal, task-driven nature of work; inappropriate resident placement; and inadequate time for them to provide emotional and social care. Due to a lack of time and resources, workers frequently are unable to meet all of the care needs of residents, they said.

The researchers also found that workplace violence adversely affects workers’ own health and wellbeing, leading to injuries, unaddressed emotional trauma, job dissatisfaction and burnout. Ultimately, study participants saw workplace violence as symptomatic of settings that undervalue both staff and residents, the study found.

The study also suggests ways that senior living companies, policymakers and others can reduce and prevent violence against long-term care workers to improve the working and living conditions for staff members and residents. Among them are increased training and resources, funding, staffing levels, public awareness and recognition of the severity and pervasiveness of the phenomenon, as well as legal and regulatory measures.

The study was published in New Solutions: A Journal of Environmental and Occupational Health Policy and was funded by the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions / Canadian Union of Public Employees.