OHS Canada Magazine

Violent assault on nurse spurs call for oh&s charges


December 15, 2014
By Jeff Cottrill

Health & Safety Occupational Health & Safety Charges Violence in the Workplace

Attack on nurse latest of several at Newmarket healthcare facility

(Canadian OH&S News) — The Ontario Nurses’ Association (ONA) is calling for the Ministry of Labour to press charges against the Southlake Regional Health Centre in Newmarket, following another violent incident at the hospital.

Southlake president and chief executive officer Dr. Dave Williams confirmed that a patient had assaulted a nurse in the emergency room during the first week of December. “The incident was reported to York Regional Police,” Dr. Williams said. “For the privacy and confidentiality of those involved, we cannot provide any additional information.”

On Dec. 8, ONA put out a media release demanding action in response to this incident and previous ones, charging that Southlake had failed to protect its staff properly. In the recent instance, the association claimed, staff in the hospital’s emergency department had to go to the security office for help.

“Security had essentially not taken over the observation of a client that had been dropped off,” explained Andy Summers, ONA’s vice-president of health and safety. “They should have been present to keep them under watch, under safeguard, and then when things did go awry, the security were not able to respond.”

Summers added that the hospital had neglected to train staff on how to use their panic alarms, which not only alert security but also identify the employee’s exact location. “There were other staff in the department who were not familiar with these alarms. Security did not know how to respond to them.”

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This was the latest of several such incidents at Southlake. Most notably, on June 9 of last year, a patient beat up a nurse and injured three others. The York Regional Police arrested the patient for assault, but laid no charges against the hospital.

“This is a problem that we’ve noticed across the province, that police are reluctant to lay charges,” said Summers, who blamed much of the problem on a common belief “that violence is inherently part of a nurse’s job. And that pervasive culture, I think, may be not unique in Ontario, but is very, very present up at Southlake.”

Dr. Williams disagreed, noting that the hospital had established a Corporate Workplace Violence Prevention Committee last fall. The purpose is to probe violent incidents while implementing policies and supports, such as physical modifications to the work environment.

“The issue of violence in the workplace is complex,” said Dr. Williams. “We’ve made some great strides in introducing initiatives to ensure our people are better supported to be safe at work. That said, we know we are on a journey, and there are many factors that contribute to creating a safe environment.”

But Summers felt that the facility was not living up to its commitment.

According to Summers, violence in Ontario healthcare facilities has increased. “It quite clearly is in epidemic proportions around the province,” he said, elaborating that Toronto’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health has reported about 400 violent incidents to date this year, while London Health Sciences Centre sees about 100 per month.

“This is going to escalate to the point where a nurse is, unfortunately, going to die,” Summers added. “We’re just not going to get a lot of response from either government or employers until something really serious happens.”

“Violence in healthcare institutions is not new,” said Dr. Williams. “These incidents are a clear reminder that we must continue to identify and implement best practices, so that our people can be safe.”

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