OHS Canada Magazine

Another nurse beaten by patient at Ottawa mental-health centre

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September 29, 2015
By Jeff Cottrill

Health & Safety Human Resources Mental Health nursing occupational health and safety ontario ottawa violence workplace violence

Nurses' union says security at psychiatric facility insufficient

(Canadian OH&S News) — Violence against healthcare workers by aggressive patients continues to be an issue of concern in Ontario, after another incident occurred at Ottawa’s Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre (ROMHC) on Sept. 10 — in the same unit where three nurses were reportedly beaten in June 2012.

According to information from the Ontario Nurses’ Association (ONA), an agitated patient assaulted a registered practical nurse in the ROMHC’s recovery unit. Very few specific details have been released about the incident, but Cal Crocker, the facility’s executive vice president and CFO, confirmed to COHSN that the attack had occurred.

“Some of the patients that we get are challenging, in terms of the environment we’re in,” Crocker said, stressing that the ROMHC is one of four specialized psychiatric facilities in the province.

ONA first vice president Vicki McKenna said that the union had been trying to improve the safety situation at this mental-health centre for a long time.

“We have been working so hard there, trying to get this employer to step up to the plate and do the right thing,” she said. “We’ve gone to them with recommendations. The frontline staff have been really involved on that, and they’re just not expecting someone to fix this for them.”


McKenna compared healthcare workers to firefighters, who need certain equipment and procedures to do their job safely. “They run into fire, absolutely, but they don’t do it without their equipment,” she explained. As for the ROMHC nurses, “they are going into situations that they don’t have the equipment they need, they don’t have the staff they need, they don’t have those things in place there, and so they’re really in a vulnerable situation, as are other patients and visitors.

“If this were happening in a manufacturing plant, or in any other work setting, this would not be tolerated, in any way, shape or form.”

But Crocker said that the facility had plentiful security and training in place for violent situations.

“Each staff member has an electronic device that, if there is an incident, they pull the electronic device in terms of setting the device off, and that leads to a Code White,” he said. “Staff on the unit and other units respond to all Code Whites in our organization.”

Crocker added that his staff undergo an intervention training program focusing on de-escalating messy situations. “You talk the patient down, as opposed to anything else. And in the vast majority of cases, that works, because the staff know the patients and they can relate and deal with the situation,” he said. “The practice is always to de-escalate, because that’s the most appropriate, and it maintains the therapeutic relationship.”

Despite this, McKenna accused the ROMHC and other facilities of devoting their budgets to defending themselves legally after violent incidents, “instead of spending money on what really matters,” such as extra protection and security.

“And to think that another healthcare worker is then assaulted, and that could have been prevented,” she said. “I just shake my head and think, ‘What about this is so difficult and confusing?’”

ROMHC staff members are currently beginning a new hands-on safety-training course, Crocker said. In addition, the hospital conducts a review of procedures every time an incident like this happens, and there is an Employee Assistance Program that provides counselling to distraught or traumatized employees. “If it’s considered a serious incident, or critical incident, there’s a report into the Ministry of Labour,” he added.

The ROMHC has been facing charges of failing to protect workers over the 2012 incident. Crocker suggested that it was merely coincidence that the recent attack had occurred in the same unit.

“These situations — not only is it sad, but it’s just not acceptable,” said McKenna.


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