December 16, 2018

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Unions demand province assist hospital nurses, security in meth battle

Unions that represent local nurses and hospital security guards are calling on Health Minister Cameron Friesen and the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority to back up their members, after a spike in violent assaults on hospital staff allegedly fuelled by methamphetamine abuse.

Nurses are increasingly afraid of being the victims of violence at the hands of patients who are in the throes of meth-induced psychosis, and the security guards hired to protect them are uncertain about what authority they have to physically intervene, the unions say.

“It is a shame that nurses have to fear for their lives when they go into work. That is unacceptable and an absolute shame,” Manitoba Nurses Union president Darlene Jackson said Wednesday.

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Unions that represent local nurses and hospital security guards are calling on Health Minister Cameron Friesen and the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority to back up their members, after a spike in violent assaults on hospital staff allegedly fuelled by methamphetamine abuse.

Nurses are increasingly afraid of being the victims of violence at the hands of patients who are in the throes of meth-induced psychosis, and the security guards hired to protect them are uncertain about what authority they have to physically intervene, the unions say.

"It is a shame that nurses have to fear for their lives when they go into work. That is unacceptable and an absolute shame," Manitoba Nurses Union president Darlene Jackson said Wednesday.

"I would like to see every facility in the province have some type of security, and every security personnel be trained in exactly the same way and be equipped with peace officer status."

On Wednesday, the CBC published a video showing a violent assault on hospital staff at Winnipeg's Health Sciences Centre, perpetrated by a 21-year-old man believed to be high on meth.

The security footage from Aug. 31 shows the man repeatedly strike a nurse, before being swarmed by multiple security guards who trade punches with the man and tackle him to the ground.

"One thing that I feel is important to note is that in the video there were four security guards available around the corner when it happened, but that just isn’t the reality we work in 99.9 per cent of the time," Jackson said.

"Generally, you don’t have four security guards at the ready. There are some facilities (in Manitoba) that have no security guards. The nurse would have been on their own."

The MNU, alongside the Manitoba Government and General Employees' Union, which represents security guards at Winnipeg hospitals, said the video is a window into the violence their members are routinely subjected to.

On Wednesday morning, there was another violent assault against staff at the  that led to two security guards receiving medical attention, the MGEU said.

HSC security and staff say they feel unsafe at work.

TREVOR HAGAN / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

HSC security and staff say they feel unsafe at work.

It is believed the security footage published by the CBC was leaked by someone who works at HSC.

In an internal message to staff — which the Free Press has obtained — Ronan Segrave, HSC interim chief operating officer, seemed to indicate the hospital is seeking to identify and discipline whoever leaked the footage.

"The unauthorized filming and release of the security footage is concerning for a number of reasons. Most significant is the serious breach of personal health information. There is no circumstance under which the release of this information to media by a member of staff would be appropriate," Segrave wrote.

"Breaching patient health information and privacy should never happen. We take this issue very seriously, and are currently conducting an investigation into the matter."

'It is a shame that nurses have to fear for their lives when they go into work. That is unacceptable and an absolute shame' – Manitoba Nurses Union president Darlene Jackson

The nurses union says assaults on staff have spiked sharply at Winnipeg hospitals. The union points to the increased use of RL6 forms — which document violent incidents — at HSC as evidence the problem is growing.

In 2017, HSC staff filled out 41 such forms, while so far this year, 81 have been filed. The union claims it is only a partial picture of the number of violent incidents at the hospital, since the forms aren’t filled out for every assault.

Meanwhile, "code whites" — which trigger group responses to violent patients — have reportedly soared at Grace Hospital.

"In the past, they would have maybe a code white once or twice a month. They’re now having them daily, and often times multiple times in a day," Jackson said.

In response to the leaked security footage, Friesen told the CBC he commends "security staff who demonstrated in this unfortunate incident that they have the ability, training and authority to intervene when situations require it."

That drew sharp criticism from the MGEU, which called on Friesen to back up his comments with a written legal opinion.

The union released a lengthy written statement from its legal counsel disputing the minister's claim. It indicates security guards have no more legal authority than the average citizen; it also states security guards who do intervene could face legal repercussions.

Réal Cloutier, Interim President and CEO, WRHA.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Réal Cloutier, Interim President and CEO, WRHA.

The MGEU points to one situation in which a security guard was criminally charged for a physical intervention that management deemed a reasonable use of force — and another instance where an individual was fired for intervening against a man threatening to kill himself.

Freisen's comments, when stacked up against those anecdotal accounts, create a mixed message for hospital security guards, the unions say.

The WRHA said 40 per cent of security guards at the HSC have peace officer status, which grants them greater legal powers and helps shield them from potential legal repercussions.

However, Réal Cloutier, WRHA interim president and CEO, said Manitoba Justice no longer confers peace officer status to hospital security staff, and there are no talks underway to reinstate the practice.

That means, for the time being, efforts by the unions to have such status granted to all hospital security guards are likely to fall on deaf ears.

While Cloutier admits violent attacks on hospital emergency room staff are on the rise, he cautions against jumping to the conclusion it is directly linked to meth.

Cloutier also contends there’s no evidence the man in the leaked security footage was high on methamphetamine at the time of the assault.

He said there were 20 significant staff injuries (reportable to the Workers Compensation Board) in April 2018, compared with 15 in the same month last year, as a result of violent incidents involving patients in city hospitals. (Those figures do not include St. Boniface Hospital.)

"What we don't know whether or not the increase in violent incidents is a direct result of meth," Cloutier said, adding Winnipeg emergency rooms report dealing with about 27,000 patients per month.

Jackson, however, claims the link is clear.

"I know what nurses are telling me. I'm very well-aware of the stories and incidents," she said.

"The nurses are saying violent episodes are on the increase, that this is related to methamphetamine, and there are many, many times where they're in positions where they are very fearful."

ryan.thorpe@freepress.mb.ca

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca

Larry Kusch

Larry Kusch
Legislature Reporter

Larry Kusch didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life until he attended a high school newspaper editor’s workshop in Regina in the summer of 1969 and listened to a university student speak glowingly about the journalism program at Carleton University in Ottawa.

Read full biography

Ryan Thorpe

Ryan Thorpe
Reporter

Ryan Thorpe likes the pace of daily news, the feeling of a broadsheet in his hands and the stress of never-ending deadlines hanging over his head.

Read full biography

History

Updated on Wednesday, October 10, 2018 at 8:29 PM CDT: Fixes typo.

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