Teddy bears, flowers and a balloon were all part of the growing vigil for Dr. Walter Reynolds, who was murdered Monday inside the Village Mall Walk-in Clinic in North Red Deer. (Photo by BYRON HACKETT/Advocate Staff)

Physicians often face aggressive patients

Almost all say they have been abused by patients or their families at some point

The killing of a Red Deer doctor highlights the dangers physicians and health-care workers routinely face on the job.

It became enough of an issue that in 2019, the federal government’s standing committee on health held hearings into violence against health-care workers.

Workers told the committee that workplace violence is widespread in health settings.

There has been little recent Canadian research into how prevalent violence, harassment and abuse are in physicians’ offices.

A 2010 study by the College of Family Physicians of Canada found 98 per cent had experienced at least one incident of minor abuse, including everything from harassment to stalking.

Three out of four reported they had been victims of major abuse, and four out of 10 said they had experienced serious abuse.

One-third of respondents had been exposed to aggressive behaviour by a patient or a patient’s family in the previous month.

Red Deer’s Dr. Walter Reynolds was a victim of deadly violence when he was attacked and killed in his walk-in clinic on Monday.

Colleague Dr. Peter Bouch, who like Reynolds, came to Canada from South Africa, said the incident, while rare, has doctors thinking more about office safety.

“I think your initial gut reaction is one of worry, but we need to, as physicians, sit down and come up with maybe a plan …” he said.

Useful measures might include better screening of patients, or requiring that bags that could conceal a weapon be left at the front, rather than bringing them into the office or examination rooms.

“It’s really sad that an event like this has to precipitate this, but really, we need to get together to try and come up with a working plan,” said Bouch.

Reynold’s death has been a “major shock” for all local physicians, especially those who came from South Africa and were drawn to Canada by its safe environment.

Red Deer RCMP Supt. Gerald Grobmeier said Reynolds was targeted and it was not a random attack. Grobmeier would not comment on whether the accused was a patient of the doctor, or what may have led to the violence.

The incident, in which a police officer suffered minor injuries, is rare, he said.

“In my 27 years of policing, I have not seen a doctor attacked like that,” said Grobmeier.

In its report, the standing committee made nine recommendations, including adopting a framework to prevent violence and raise public awareness about the problem.

It was also recommended that the Criminal Code be amended to make assaulting a worker in the health-care field an aggravating factor in sentencing, which could lead to tougher penalties.

More funding for the Canadian Institutes of Health Research to come up with best practices and ways to prevent future violence was also recommended, along with more money to address staff shortages.

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