The BC Nurses Union is calling for more protection of hospital staff following the assault of a female security guard at a hospital in Terrace.
Nurses at Mills Memorial Hospital witnessed an agitated patient beat and bite a female security guard two weeks ago, union president Christine Sorensen confirmed. She said it’s another example of the violence that nurses and hospital staff face, especially at small hospitals in rural B.C.
“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, which is a coordinated response to a potentially out-of-control or violent person, was called when a patient in the psychiatric unit began acting out toward staff.
One nurse, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told Black Press Media that a security guard intervened, but the situation escalated, and the patient attacked. The guard is still recovering and is not yet back to work, the nurse said.
Violence against hospital staff is a widespread issue from Haida Gwaii to Prince George, the nurse said, adding that it’s time the public was made aware.
Prince George, Terrace and Quesnel are the only hospitals in the north with security. They were identified by the nurses’ union and provincial government as the most at-risk because of their psychiatric units.
Sorensen said all hospitals face issues of violence on a daily basis and do not have adequate protection, but the situation is intensified at smaller hospitals in rural communities because they deal with more complex patients with less support.
The number of violent incidents against nurses and staff have been increasing, which Sorensen attributes to an aging population, a lack of services, and a shortage of nurses.
In an email, Northern Health spokesperson Eryn Collins said 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 prevention program. This includes 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 said.
Sites without any contracted, on-site security services do have security measures in place, such as cameras and access restrictions at certain times, she added.
Sorensen said that sometimes isn’t enough because security staff are not trained in conflict resolution or therapeutic relationship skills. Nurses are, she said, and with staff shortages, it is becoming increasingly difficult to handle.
Vancouver Island Health Authority and the Provincial Health Services Authority have hired trained safety officers for one-on-one assistance for potentially violent patients, but Northern Health has yet to do so.
Jenna Cocullo | Journalist
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