DJ Sanderson has worked as registered nurse for 20 years and has been on the front lines in the emergency room at Southlake Regional Health Centre for 13 years.
Sanderson, who is currently on leave while serving as the regional vice president for the Ontario Nurses’ Association in Durham, York, Peel and Toronto, says he knows all too well what it is like to be worried about safety while on the job.
“Violence is something that we deal with regularly at Southlake,” Sanderson said. “It is by no means anything that could be called rare.”
The hospital was fined $80,000 on Friday in connection with a violent workplace incident in 2019.
Two workers were trying to re-enter a nursing station in the facility’s emergency psychiatric assessment area after delivering food to a patient.
Another patient who had been admitted earlier that day struck both staffers as they were trying to get back into the station, causing serious injuries. On Saturday, another incident took place. This time a nurse sustained a serious wrist injury while at work, allegedly from a patient.
An internal memo obtained by Global News from the CEO to staff said the nurse was treated, and is now at home. The memo goes on to say that a full review of situation is underway. Officials said the patient has been transferred to a specialized mental health facility.
Hospital staff said between July and September, 63 incidents were reported, with 21 classified as near misses, 34 which required first aid, and five that resulted in staff members needing to take time off work.
Sanderson said he hears about these incidents far too often.
“To be totally honest we have had so many issues at Southlake, and so many flags and warnings, and opportunities to fix some of these problems and we are just not seeing a real initiative on the employer’s part to change these things,” Sanderson said.
Legal experts said investigators will likely be looking closely at what changes the hospital put in place in the wake of the 2019 incident.
“If there were no steps taken to protect the workers then I suspect there are going to be more significant consequences that may arise,” Elyse Sunshine said.
Sunshine’s practice specializes in health and regulatory law.
She said it can take time to fix systemic problems that contribute to work place violence. However, employers are obligated to act quickly when issues arise.
“Some of these things may not get fixed overnight,” Sunshine said. “But they do need to be looked at on a fairly speedy basis and things need to be done to try and minimize the risk of these things happening.”
Hospital officials said they have taken several steps to improve safety, including increasing security, opening a new emergent mental health assessment unit, and adding more training for staff.
However, CEO Arden Krystal said there are significant gaps in the health care system.
“An acute care hospital is not the most appropriate environment for patients with medical conditions that effect their behaviour in extreme ways,” Krystal said.
“It can feel like an uphill battle when these types of patients cannot get access to an appropriate facility and end up being admitted to our hospital.”
Ontario Nurses’ Association president Vicki McKenna said that view does not sit well with her, especially given that any one can go to a hospital for treatment.
“You may not be able to build a new place right away, or do something so that there is the most appropriate health-care setting, but when it’s not the right health-care setting, then we need to put the protections in place,” McKenna said.
Lawyers said with the rising pressures resulting from the pandemic, they hope employers continue to prioritize safety for those on the front lines.
“We are living through one pandemic, we don’t want to start another pandemic of violence,” Sunshine said.