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Nurses’ union was not informed of gun incident: president

Man, 60, brought firearm into Nova Scotia hospital


(Canadian OH&S News) — Following an incident in which an agitated man brought a firearm into a Middleton, N.S. hospital, the Nova Scotia Nurses’ Union (NSNU) has charged that nobody formally notified it about the occurrence for more than a week. The union learned about the incident from media, according to the president.

RCMP officers from the Annapolis District detachment were called to the Soldiers Memorial Hospital on Oct. 3 after a report about a visitor from Kings County behaving erratically, according to an NSNU news release. The man, 60, was arrested and charged with possession of a firearm while prohibited, unauthorized firearm possession and careless firearm use.

“The incident has been reported through our serious-incident monitoring system, and follow-up, including an internal review, is in progress,” said Kristen Lipscombe, senior advisor for media relations with the Nova Scotia Health Authority (NSHA), which runs the hospital. “Our safety leaders will meet with staff to update safety plans for the area.

“Nova Scotia Health Authority is relieved and grateful that no employees, patients or visitors were harmed.”

Local media reports have identified the man as Mark Baltzer. He had previously been charged with plotting to murder police officers in Newfoundland and has a long history of violence, according to the union.

“We didn’t find out about this until I read it in the paper,” explained NSNU president Janet Hazelton. “Our members were told not to call us.” The union was officially informed on Oct. 11.

According to Lipscombe, the NSHA is not required to notify the union of all workplace incidents. “All NSHA staff, including nurses, are bound by both legislative requirements and professional regulations from speaking about the personal health information and ongoing care of patients,” she said.

Hazelton speculated that the incident had been hidden from the NSNU to avoid interfering with the police booking process.

“Not that I don’t care about the process, but the individual safety of the employees trumps individual rights to privacy,” said Hazelton. “It’s actually in the legislation.”

In Nova Scotia’s healthcare sector, the standard response to incidents like these is to call the RCMP. In this case, it took the police about half an hour to arrive at the hospital, due to their remote location.

For Hazelton, this delayed response highlighted an urgent need to improve safety for employees and patients in the province’s healthcare facilities.

“I find it very frustrating that Members of Parliament, our MLAs in this province, are better protected than our nurses,” she said, noting that the provincial legislature had recently installed metal detectors following a loud union demonstration. “It was just a lot of screaming and yelling and stuff,” she added, describing the protest. “We have people that can walk into our facilities with guns and knives.”

Among the threats that healthcare employees frequently deal with are violent domestic abusers looking for their hospitalized partners, intoxicated or mentally ill patients and elderly Alzheimer’s disease sufferers who lash out when confused. And the situation is getting worse in Nova Scotia, according to Hazelton.

“Mental illness has increased astronomically. Many of our clients that are mentally ill aren’t seeking appropriate treatment. Alcohol and drug use is up,” she said. “We have inadequate safety measures to protect the workers.”

Unlike in Ontario, hospital security in Nova Scotia is not permitted to restrain agitated patients physically, she added. “We’re not equipped to care for patients like this.”

Lipscombe said that the NSHA is in the process of developing a standardized violence-prevention program to make healthcare workplaces safer.

“NSHA is committed to the prevention of violence, the reduction of risks of violence and to providing a safe and healthy work environment,” she said.

But Hazelton stressed that a change in the overall workplace culture was necessary, as violence had become accepted as normal in the industry.

“Because it’s healthcare, people think it’s okay. Because they’re patients,” she said. “We not only tolerate it, we’re expected to care for that individual.

“How do we provide care to them, but keep our nurses and others safe?”