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ONA blasts Guelph hospital for alleged inattention to safety

Union files grievance against healthcare facility


(Canadian OH&S News) — Guelph General Hospital (GGH) in Guelph, Ont. is the latest healthcare centre in the province to face public fire for alleged incidents of violence against staff. The Ontario Nurses’ Association (ONA) announced on March 15 that it had filed a grievance against the hospital, for insufficient protection of employees and patients.

The grievance was spurred by several recent attacks, including one in which a patient had thrown a urine bottle at a female registered nurse in the first half of March, according to Anne Clark, a regional vice president with ONA.

“One of our members was grabbed by an agitated patient,” said Clark, “and she couldn’t call for help. Before anybody could come to her assistance, a full bottle of urine was thrown in her face, which splashed into her mouth and eyes, and she was bitten.”

In another recent case, a patient arrived in the emergency room with a chemical spill, but staff did not have the proper protective equipment or space for decontaminating the patient. The employees were reduced to taking the patient outside the hospital and scrubbing the contaminants off with soapy water, ONA has charged.

“In this day and age, hospitals should be equipped to deal with that,” said Clark. “They didn’t have gowns and all the equipment that you need for a chemical spill.

“And this has happened before,” she added. “An incident happened last year.”

But GGH president and CEO Marianne Walker told COHSN that no contamination had occurred in the more recent chemical incident.

“We did have equipment, but it wasn’t readily available, and the staff weren’t appropriately trained. So quickly, we put in a temporary solution,” said Walker. She said that the hospital had since learned from the incident and created a more comprehensive plan. “Today, staff are trained, equipment is readily available and they know what to do.”

Walker added that she had been “quite surprised” by ONA’s accusation of inattention to safety, because the hospital has four staff members with the union who work closely with the joint health and safety committee and because Walker herself sits on the provincial government’s panel on violence in healthcare. While conceding that violence had been occurring against GGH staff, she called it a problem affecting all hospitals across the province, not just hers.

Clark said that GGH’s recent incidents were part of an escalating pattern showing a lack of concern for safety and hygiene there.

“They need to be working with us to find a solution,” she suggested. “Staff incidences need to be brought to us in a timely manner, and the occupational health and safety committee needs to be involved.” The union is also calling for GGH to initiate mandatory violence-prevention training, adopt a system for flagging violent patients and have a safety audit conducted in every unit.

“You need to be prepared for every eventuality, and you need to be able to take every precaution reasonable to protect your staff,” said Clark.

Walker countered that the hospital was already taking action, such as offering crisis-intervention training four times a year. “It is mandatory right now in the high-risk areas, such as emergency department and also the intensive care,” she noted. “About 60 people a year attend it right now, but what we’d like to do is increase that amount.”

GGH also has “gentle-persuasion training” for dealing with patients with cognitive impairment, and it has also updated its emergency codes, added security cameras and hired a health and safety officer, added Walker. “And now we just finished our hospital-wide security audit, and so we’re just waiting for the final reports, and we will implement those recommendations.

“We want to become one of the safest hospitals in Ontario. It is a journey to get there.”