‘A constant battle’: Meth putting health care workers safety in jeopardy, says former nurse

A former ER nurse talks about the safety of health care workers during Winnipeg’s meth crisis
Former Seven Oaks Hospital ER nurse Kardene Campbell speaks to Global News' Brittany Greenslade about the rise in violence she saw on the job before retiring in June 2018.

We turn to nurses and doctors for help, but a former Winnipeg nurse says no one is helping health care workers who she says are increasingly becoming targets for abuse on the job.

Kardene Campbell worked at Seven Oaks Hospital for 38 years and says she saw a significant spike in violent patients in the months before she retired last June.

“When I started nursing we may have been injured or assaulted a little bit, but it was, you know a little old granny who was confused and would give you a little pinch,” she said.

“But this has progressed above and beyond that … I’m not being pinched anymore — I’m being physically assaulted.”

Campbell said she regularly experienced verbal abuse while working, and two of her colleagues were physically assaulted, one attacked in the waiting room and the other “punched out” in the hospital’s stretcher bay area.

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READ MORE: Winnipeg acts on task force’s recommendations on Manitoba’s meth crisis

She has no doubt the violence is tied to the city’s growing meth problem.

“Everyday we hear about what the fire paramedic service or the police are dealing with in regards to the meth crisis, but we have to remember that those individuals come into emergency departments and the safety concerns aren’t always addressed there,” she said.

“We would see a lot of those individuals, they’re difficult to deal with, they’re very challenging.”

In October the Manitoba Nurses Union reported a 1,200 per cent increase in meth-related emergency room visits in Winnipeg since 2013.

A former Winnipeg ER nurse talks about the violence she saw on the job
A former Winnipeg ER nurse talks about the violence she saw on the job

“What they’re seeing is patients that are coming in high on methamphetamine, they may be in a meth-induced psychosis, which means they are generally quite paranoid and have very high anxiety levels,” said union president Darlene Jackson, after a nurse was punched in the face by a man believed to be on meth in September.

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“They’re also very erratic, with unexpected behaviour. They can become very aggressive, which means you can’t really anticipate the type of behaviours they’re going to display.”

The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority says between October 2016 and October 2018 there were 175 violent incidents reported at Grace Hospital and 422 reported at the Health Sciences Centre.

But Campbell says the numbers don’t tell the whole story, because incidents aren’t always reported.

READ MORE: Winnipeg police chief urges officers to ‘hang in there’ amidst elevated calls for service

And while the provincial government has passed legislation giving security guards more power, Campbell says the issue is not being taken seriously by those in power.

“It seems that when cuts have to be made, it seems that those making the decisions feel that it’s OK to remove security from emergency departments,” she said.

“We have asked for increased support when it comes to security … it’s a constant battle.

“I think it’s time the front lines are heard.”

-With files from Brittany Greenslade

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