When a patient acts out in violence, nurses and care staff in northern communities have to handle the situation on their own without adequate training and without the protection of a safety officer.
The Prince Rupert Regional Hospital is one of the many care facilities in the north that has been flagged by the BC Nurses’ Union (BCNU) as experiencing several incidences of violence.
“We have had, throughout all of the Prince Rupert facilities, a great many of violent incidents where nurses have left work with black eyes, scratches and fairly serious injuries,” said Teri Forster, chair of the north west region for BCNU.
In March, the union formalized its campaign against violence and bringing security or safety officers to all hospitals in the province. On average, 26 nurses experience a violent injury at work in B.C. every month.
In every site in the north, Kitimat, Smithers, Terrace and Prince Rupert, there are no security officers. The vice-president of BCNU Christine Sorensen said that nurses have been reporting on this issue for many years, but what is concerning is there is an increasing amount of violence at work.
“It’s not safe for them, and they then can’t provide safe patient care that those patients deserve,” Sorensen said.
“We have been raising this issue for many years and we have not seen a response from Northern Health in the provision of safety officers.”
Although the Prince Rupert Regional Hospital doesn’t have contracted on-site security services, Northern Health spokesperson Eryn Collins, said there are security measures in place including cameras, access restrictions and nurses can call the RCMP when required. The hospital called the RCMP 44 times for reports of intoxicated, violent or disruptive persons — not necessarily patients — in 2016, confirmed Staff Sgt. Brian Donaldson.
Northern Health has a Violence Prevention Program to regularly assess risk of violence in all facilities.
“We provide mandatory violence prevention training for staff and, where possible, physicians working in areas with increased exposure to violence, such as mental health units, emergency departments, and residential care facilities,” Collins said.
But the nurses union wants on-site security personnel for all B.C. hospitals. The risk of violence is probably greater in the north, Sorensen said, as nurses are working in isolated communities on their own. BCNU is asking for safety officers in every acute emergency department to ensure safety for nurses and patients.
Following a violent incident with a patient the protocol is to call a “Code White” — and nurses are often sent to the scene to assist, or the RCMP is called if there is an immediate threat of harm.
However, both Sorensen and Forster said they did not receive training in their nursing education to physically handle a patient who is out of control.
Safety officers are employed in larger hospitals, and they are specifically trained to manage patients who act out violently.
“We believe this should be ruled out across the province,” Sorensen said.
Addressing the nursing shortage
Leading up to the election on May 9, the nurses’ union is also lobbying for better recruitment and retention of staff in the north.
At the Prince Rupert Regional Hospital, staff shortages fluctuate. There are only a couple of permanent staff vacancies, Forster said, but if a nurse is off work due to an injury, illness or maternity leave, the hospital ends up with temporary vacancies that are difficult to fill.
“There are times in our long-term care faculty (Acropolis Manor) that if you go into the building there is one nurse providing care to 61 residents. There are care aids and support staff but only one nurse — that one nurse is responsible for helping all those people,” Forster said.
The RCMP is working with staff at Acropolis Manor to develop a safety plan and police have been granted a card to allow them to improve their response time.
“We had a number of incidents there over the last six months at Acropolis Manor with some of the patients that had become violent and uttered threats to some of the nurses,” Staff Sgt. Donaldson said.
BCNU is working with the Northern Health authority and the provincial government to look at strategies to improve the situation by implementing strategies around housing and education allowances. However, the vice-president of the union said the health authority should have dealt with this issue a long time ago.
On March 23, the nurses union held a rally in Smithers to voice their concerns for the north to the public — hoping that Northern Health and the provincial government will finally hear them.