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Union calls for better anti-violence policies at psychiatric facility

Patient, 21, jailed twice this year for assaulting workers


(Canadian OH&S News) — Following the sentencing of a patient at a Charlottetown mental-health hospital for assaulting a worker, the union representing the facility’s staff has met with the hospital administration regarding violence against employees.

The patient, a 21-year-old woman, was sentenced to two months of jail time for the attack on Aug. 18. This was the second time this year that she had been sentenced to prison time for assaulting staff while undergoing treatment at Hillsborough Hospital.

The second assault occurred while employees were taking the patient out in public, according to Debbie Bovyer, president of the P.E.I. Union of Public Sector Employees.

“They sent her out with five staff members. So they knew she was dangerous, but they still sent her out and endangered the staff members,” Bovyer explained. “Staff are being put at risk with patients that are showing no progress.”

Bovyer, along with three Hillsborough employees, discussed the issue of improving policies regarding violence on the job with the facility’s director of nursing and head of human resources, earlier in August.

“We asked them if we, as a working group, namely the union, and the employer could start developing policies that would protect the staff a little better, and we were outright told, ‘No,’” said Bovyer. “‘We have a plan for this particular patient if she should return to the hospital,’ but no changes in anything to protect the staff. I talked about their legal obligation to protect the staff, and they talked about progress of patients.”

Health P.E.I., the government organization that runs Hillsborough and other healthcare facilities around the province, did not respond to COHSN’s request for an interview.

Bovyer suggested that Hillsborough needed new policies to deal with worker safety without jeopardizing patient care. “They need to have stronger policies to protect staff, which they don’t seem to have now. They don’t seem to have any appetite to change policy, because their main concern is progress of patients.”

She added that this had been an ongoing problem at Hillsborough for about 20 years — and that many other P.E.I. healthcare facilities were also dealing with violence, to a lesser degree.

“The nursing-home people, they’re getting slapped, they’re getting scratched, they’re being spit on, pinched, hit, possibly run into with wheelchairs,” said Bovyer. “The management always comes back to staff and says, ‘What did you do wrong?’” In addition, staff members have been blamed and even fired from facilities as a result of violent incidents.

“So it’s an ongoing trend. It’s an increasing trend now.”

Currently, Hillsborough employs “commissionaires” to deal with violent patients, she said. “They said they’re going to get higher-trained commissionaires, but not — they never said anything about getting correctional officers,” added Bovyer. “Commissionaires are not really security.”

Other provinces have recently begun to take action on violence against healthcare workers. On Aug. 6, the B.C. Ministry of Health announced that it would be providing funds to increase security at four facilities, while the Government of Ontario has initiated a leadership table of experts to devise anti-violence strategies.

Bovyer was not optimistic that P.E.I. authorities would follow a similar route. “I can’t see them doing that here, because they are very much trying to get a decrease in their budget.”

Of the province’s healthcare workers, she lamented: “They’re not getting support on the floor, they’re not getting support from upper management.”