The case of a patient striking an emergency room nurse with a garbage can is indicative of a spike in hospital violence the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority suspects is caused by crystal meth use.
The Concordia Hospital ER nurse was working a shift this past November when an aggressive patient hit her with a garbage bin, according to a Dec. 20, 2017, edition of a daily staff newsletter obtained by the Free Press.
The newsletter, called the Concordia Today, lists drugs and alcohol intoxication as the likely culprit. It goes on to describe November as "a wild one for our team in emergency." Not only did the department experience an increase in EMS offloads of 57 per cent compared with the same month a year earlier, but there were also "many more" code whites — the emergency code used to denote violent incidents.
"We have evidence that suggests there are increasing numbers of people attending our emergency departments experiencing adverse effects of (the street drug) crystal meth," WRHA spokeswoman Bronwyn Penner-Holigroski said in a statement on Thursday.
"A common adverse effect of amphetamines is aggressive or even violent behaviour."
While there’s no empirical evidence yet, Penner-Holigroski said the region knows that "anecdotally, it is a contributing factor." She did note, however, the increase in EMS offloads is expected as a result of the region’s clinical consolidation efforts.
In 2017, WRHA staff reported 62 code whites in its emergency program, according to the region’s data. There’s no precise way of knowing how many involved patients who consumed methamphetamines or how many actually resulted in injuries to staff.
Five ER code whites were reported region-wide in November, the same month the Concordia Today says its ER experienced a considerable increase.
"While the reports of staff injury across the region remain low, we are aware this is something that is under-reported and we will work with the sites to monitor the situation closely," Penner-Holigroski said. "Ensuring the safety of both patients and staff is imperative to an effective emergency program and to quality patient care."
The health authority’s statement comes on the heels of Manitoba NDP Leader Wab Kinew’s renewed calls for the province to do more to deal with addiction to methamphetamine.
"It seems like every day there’s another story… about families being impacted and hurt by this scourge," he told reporters on Wednesday. "People are dying. We have to do better."
The Manitoba Liberal Party had a similar message earlier this week, calling on the provincial government to create "drug-stabilization units" where paramedics or police could take people to safely withdraw from meth.
In a statement sent Wednesday, a spokeswoman for Health Minister Kelvin Goertzen, Amy McGuinness, said the province is working on a provincial mental health and addiction strategy. A task force looking into the matter is expected to report in March.
"Manitoba’s work on methamphetamine will focus on the development of processes and team work to address challenges with withdrawal management, detoxification and treatment, in order to reduce risks to clients and staff who are working with these individuals," McGuinness said.
Updated on Friday, January 12, 2018 at 7:03 AM CST: Adds photo