The BC Nurses Union (BCNU) is calling for more protection of hospital staff following the assault of a female security guard at Mills Memorial Hospital.
BCNU president Christine Sorensen confirmed that nurses at the Terrace hospital witnessed an agitated patient beat and bite the guard two weeks ago.
She said a ‘Code White’ was called when a patient in the Mills Memorial Hospital psychiatric unit started acting out toward the staff. Code White is used to indicate the need to implement what is defined as a “focused, therapeutic model for interacting with an actual or potentially violent or out-of-control person.”
Sorensen said a security guard intervened and the situation escalated violently. The guard is still recovering and has not yet reported back to work.
She added that the incident was yet another example of the violence that nurses are either subjected to or witness, especially in small hospitals in rural Northwest B.C.
“It’s extremely traumatic physically but [there is] also psychological trauma, so I would not be surprised if [the female security guard] has not returned to work,” Sorensen said.
“In reality, nurses are afraid to go to work. It’s a very sad state of affairs for healthcare and the government needs to address it.”
The hospitals in Prince George, Terrace and Quesnel are the only facilities in the north with security because they were identified by BCNU (which represents 48,000 nurses) and the province as being the most at-risk hospitals due to their psychiatric units.
However, Sorensen said staff at all hospitals in the province face issues of violence on a daily basis and don’t have adequate protection.
“One nurse every day [across the province] is reported with serious injury related to violence,” Sorensen said, referring to WorkSafeBC statistics compiled in 2015 contained in a BCNU report titled Violence Prevention Brief, presented to the House of Commons of Canada’s Standing Committee on Healthcare,” reads the report.
“Injuries due to violence in healthcare have been steadily increasing year over year, despite a general downward trend of all claims. Data from 2015 show that an average of 26 nurses suffer a violent injury at work in BC every month.
“More recent research shows that the number of violent incidents reported in healthcare workplaces increased by 52 per cent between 2014 and 2018.”
Sorensen said the situation is worse at smaller, rural hospitals because they deal with more complex patients with less support, leaving nursing staff in greater danger.
The number of incidents of violence against nurses and staff has been increasing, a factor Sorensen attributes to ageing populations, a lack of services and a shortage of nurses, which translates into longer wait times and increased patient agitation.
Northern Health spokesperson Eryn Collins wrote in an email to Black Press that while the health authority cannot comment on specific incidents involving patients or staff out of privacy concerns, they are “committed to strengthening a culture of safety and reducing the potential for workplace violence.”
Collins said all Northern Health locations assess the potential for violence in the workplace and implement a violence prevention program to improve workplace security.
This includes violence risk assessments, incident reporting and investigation, various policies and guidelines, a provincial violence prevention curriculum, and education on occupational health and safety for supervisors and managers.
“We also have standardized Code White response protocols that are used to defuse potentially dangerous situations and help protect staff, patients and bystanders,” Collins wrote.
She said facilities without any contracted, on-site security services, however, do have security measures in place, from security cameras and access restrictions at appropriate times, to response from local RCMP when their presence is required, Collins said.
Sorensen said, however, that even sites with security guards are properly equipped to deal with out-of-control patients because they are not trained in conflict resolution or therapeutic relationship skills.
While nurses receive training with shortages of staff it is becoming increasingly difficult to handle.
“They went into nursing for medical care, not conflict resolution,” said Sorensen.
Vancouver Island Health Authority and the Provincial Health Services Authority (PHSA) have hired trained safety officers for one-on-one assistance for potentially violent patients – Northern Health, which is responsible for hiring the security company that protects hospital staff under their jurisdiction, is yet to do so.
Sorensen said some nurses who experience violence may have difficulty accessing long-term leave for medical disability due to a lack of resources. Nurses also have trouble finding trained individuals to help them deal with the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) that often accompanies having witnessed the violence.
Collins disagreed, however, saying psychological supports and resources are available for nurses who witness assaults, for their families and for physicians who experience stressors, to help them cope following workplace incidents.
“Northern Health also promotes and encourages staff to access the available supports and services through the Employee and Family Assistance Program (EFAP),” she said.
Sorensen said she would like to see trained safety officers in Northwest B.C. hospitals round the clock to assist with difficult patients.
“We shouldn’t be focusing on how much it costs but on patient care,” she said.
Jenna Cocullo | Journalist
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