Government has tools to make HSC safer
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Doing nothing just isn’t an option when it comes to the safety of health-care workers.
There is one step the provincial government could take to immediately address the vandalism, vehicle break-ins and rampant theft around Health Sciences Centre: hire institutional safety officers.
Crime around Manitoba’s largest hospital continues to escalate, causing health-care staff, patients and visitors to feel unsafe. The Manitoba Nurses Union has for years pointed to safety problems at the downtown hospital, both inside and outside the facility.
The Free Press spoke with several nurses at HSC last week about safety concerns within the facility’s parking areas. Each one said they did not feel safe using the hospital’s parkades and parking lots during working hours.
“I feel unsafe all the time,” said one nurse with 22 years of work experience at HSC. “This has been the worst year I have ever experienced at Health Sciences Centre.”
“I feel unsafe all the time… This has been the worst year I have ever experienced at Health Sciences Centre.”–HSC nurse
Reports of broken vehicle windows and fears of being attacked are causing low morale among staff, the MNU says. The union says it receives complaints daily about the situation.
However, fixing the problem does not seem to be a priority for the hospital, nor for the provincial government. Shared Health, the provincial agency that oversees HSC, could take immediate steps to improve safety at hospitals, but it’s been dragging its feet.
The Progressive Conservative government passed legislation in June 2019 to create institutional safety officers — security guards with expanded powers and additional training — for hospitals and post-secondary institutions. Nearly four years later, there are still no ISOs working at any of Manitoba’s health facilities. By contrast, the University of Manitoba plans to have ISOs on the job this summer to patrol its Fort Garry campus.
Hiring ISOs would not solve HSC’s safety problems overnight. But it would be a good start towards deterring crime in the area and providing staff and patients with improved protection.
ISOs have the power and protection of peace officers. They are authorized to carry handcuffs, batons and pepper spray. Unlike regular security guards, ISOs have the power to detain suspects and hold them for police. To be certified, they must undergo special training in public safety, crime prevention, arrests and search and seizure.
The Stefanson government has not adequately explained why it has failed to use its own enabling legislation to staff hospitals with ISOs. The Tories say fighting crime and keeping Manitobans safe are priorities for them. However, that rhetoric has not been backed up with concrete action when it comes to the safety of staff and patients at HSC.
Government and Shared Health have a responsibility to provide heath-care workers with a safe working environment. That includes the area around the hospital where employees park their vehicles, lock their bicycles and use Winnipeg Transit. Failure to ensure those areas are safe shows a lack of concern for the well-being of front-line workers. It also makes the already difficult task of recruiting health-care professionals, including doctors, more challenging. Who wants to work at a hospital in an area rife with vehicle break-ins, vandalism and the threat of violence?
Shared Health says security officials do patrol the area around the hospital, including parkades and surface parking lots. That may be. But whatever they are doing is inadequate. Staff say there are times before and after their shifts when security officials are not visible. There are also not enough security personnel to provide employees with safe escorts to their vehicles upon request.
It’s time for the Stefanson government and Shared Health to take security at HSC seriously. They have the tools to do so. They should use them.