The latest outbreak of violence at a B.C. hospital is increasing pressure on the provincial government to speed up the rollout of a tighter security in health-care facilities.
B.C.’s health minister reiterated to beef up security Thursday, a day after crisis negotiators and the Vancouver police emergency response team were called to deal with a knife-wielding man at the city’s busiest hospital.
“The staff did exactly what we want people to do when there is a dangerous situation: when they see something they can’t handle, they call 911,” Sgt. Steve Addison said of the call to Vancouver General Hospital Wednesday night.
“We were able to get there, we were able to respond with specially trained officers, emergency response team, crisis negotiations were able to talk this man down, get the weapon from him, have him slide it under the door, take him into custody, and do that without any significant threat to anyone else.”
The call was the most recent instance of a problem health-care workers say is endemic in the system, and one that creates unsafe working conditions.
The BC Nurses’ Union has mounted numerous complaints in recent years drawing attention to violence and abuse of its members.
“It’s very concerning for us that incidents like these are taking place. It’s very stressful for our members and for the patients that are in those situations where they are exposed to such danger,” union president Aman Grewal told Global News.
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“Right now it is the nurses who are the ones who respond to these code white situations and they are the ones who have to be hands on with the violent person. That’s not what a nurse signed up for. That is something a security officer would be doing.”
Russell Grabb, a B.C. resident with health complications that have put him in hospital numerous times in recent years, told Global News those concerns are not an exaggeration.
During a five-day stay in St. Paul’s Hospital last month, he said he heard staff called to no less than 30 such “code white” calls, which refer to an emergency response to workplace violence.
One of those calls remains etched clearly in his mind.
“In the middle of the night, the patient beside me went absolutely ballistic and started fighting with five nurses, and frankly as many security guards, one of whom got injured. It was crazy. It was exceptionally violent,” he said.
“It’s time for us as a society and government to do something. The time for talk and powerpoint presentations is over, and it’s time to act or someone is going to get killed.”
Last month, the B.C. government promised just that, with a plan for a new security model being rolled out across all health authorities.
“We’re putting in place a fundamental change which will increase security in 27 largely acute care sites across B.C., and that’s starting now,” Health Minister Adrian Dix said.
The plan involves hiring 320 new in-house security officers, along with 14 violence prevention leads, through a new organization called Switch BC, which involves a partnership with Doctors of BC, the Health Employers Association and various health care unions.
Dix said the program was being rolled out with a focus on the higher risk facilities and jurisdictions, but would eventually operate province-wide.
It’s welcome news for health-care workers, but Grewal said she will reserve judgment until the program is up and running.
“The government needs to ensure they have a robust program for the training of those officers, and those officers are then doing their due diligence and protecting everyone,” she said.
“You shouldn’t be fearing for your life that you’re going to be exposed to substances or weapons when you go into work, and that you are going to be harmed or injured in any way.”
Back at Vancouver General Hospital, Addison said the man with a knife likely will not face charges, due to the incident appearing to be linked to a long history of mental health challenges.