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.
Christine Sorensen, president of BCNU, confirmed that nurses at the Terrace hospital witnessed an agitated patient beat and bite a female security guard two weeks ago and that it is just one more example of the violence that nurses and hospital staff face, especially at small hospitals in rural Northwest B.C.
One Northern Health nurse, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said violence against hospital staff is a widespread issue that affects employees from Haida Gwaii to Prince George and it is time the public was made aware.
“In reality these nurses are afraid to go to work,” Sorensen said. “It’s a very sad state of affairs for health care and the government needs to address it.”
A Code White, a coordinated response to a potentially out-of-control or violent person, was called when a patient in the psychological unit of the hospital began acting out toward staff at Mills Memorial.
In response to the Code White, a security guard intervened but the situation escalated violently. The guard is still recovering and has not yet reported back to work, the nurse said.
“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.
Prince George, Terrace and Quesnel are the only hospitals in Northwest B.C. with security because they were identified by BCNU and the province as being the most at-risk hospitals due to their psychological units.
However, Sorensen said all hospitals face issues of violence on a daily basis and they do not have adequate protection.
“One nurse everyday [across the province] is reported with serious injury related to violence,” Sorensen said, referring to WCB statistics compiled in 2015.
The situation is intensified for smaller hospitals in rural cities because they deal with more complex patients with less support, leaving nursing staff in greater danger, Sorensen added.
The number of incidents of violence against nurses and staff have been increasing, which Sorensen attributes to an aging population, 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, 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 a standardized Code White response protocols that are used to defuse potentially dangerous situations and help protect staff, patients and bystanders,” Collins wrote.
Sites without any contracted, on-site security services 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.
However, Sorensen said, even sites with security guards are not well-equipped to deal with out-of-control patients because they are not trained in conflict resolution or therapeutic relationship skills. Nurses do receive this training, however, with shortages of staff, it is becoming increasingly difficult to handle.
“They went into nursing for medical care not conflict resolution,” Sorensen said.
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, but Northern Health has yet to do so.
Northern Health is responsible for hiring the security company who protects hospital staff under their jurisdiction.
Sorensen said some nurses, who suffer violence, may have difficulty accessing long-term leave for medical disability due to a lack of resources and that nurses who witness violence may also have trouble finding a trained individuals to help them resolve their PTSD.
However, Collins said psychological supports and resources for nurses who witnessed the assault are available 24/7 to work with them and their families, and physicians who are experiencing stressors, to assist with coping after a workplace incident.
“Northern Health also promotes and encourages staff to access the available supports and services through the Employee and Family Assistance Program (EFAP),” she said.
Although Sorensen said she would like to see trained safety officers in all Northwest B.C. hospitals 24/7 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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