2 nurses attacked at B.C. psych hospital, union calls for in-unit security

PHSA says that in-unit guards would do more harm than good

In the wake of two patient attacks on nurses at a B.C. psychiatric hospital within 10 days, the B.C. Nurses Union is calling for safety officers to be assigned to each unit.

According to the union, one nurse was assaulted on Aug. 5 and another on Aug. 13, resulting in “severe facial lacerations” and a “severe head injury” while working at the Coquitlam Forensic Psychiatric Hospital, according to union president Christine Sorensen.

“Both nurses were providing care within the max security unit at the time,” said Sorensen.

While she acknowledged that “these patients do have psychiatric conditions” and are the “most clinically difficult,” Sorensen said that “no injuries should take place for both patients and staff.”

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Sorensen said that the union has been calling for increased in-unit security for a long time, noting that attacks like these are “not unusual for this facility.”

But the Provincial Health Services Authority (PHSA), which operates hospitals in B.C., said that they don’t believe having in-unit guards would help.

According to CEO of Complex Mental Health and Substance Use Connie Coniglio, in-unit guards can do more harm than good and lead to “more aggressive acts.”

“Our experiences in other jurisdiction is that it makes the patients more nervous, agitated and dangerous,” Coniglio said.

“Our focus is on how to promote healing for patients with severe and complex mental health issues. It’s a hospital, not a jail.”

Instead, nurses and other health care staff are trained in how to de-escalate violent situations.

In addition to mandated violence prevention training, staff are now being trained in a U.K.-style approach called “therapeutic and relational security.”

“They’re starting to implement it in Ontario,” Coniglio said.

“It is the next step in preventing and reducing violence in the environment.”

When it all does go south, Coniglio said, hospital operate on a Code White system.

By pressing a button, nurses can call for help.

“It brings all of the appropriate people to help: colleagues and security folks,” Coniglio said.

“People come immediately to the scene… from 30 seconds to one minute.”

But Sorensen said that some violence happens almost every day.

“Anecdotally, nurses report to us that they’re sworn at during every shift,” Sorenson said.

“They’re pinched or pushed or shoved, which is all inappropriate, and that happens every shift.”

Although neither the union nor the PHSA provided statistics, Coninglio said that assaults on nurses have decreased over the years.


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