Union calls for safety improvements after nurse attacked at Abbotsford hospital

Police say a man awaiting medical treatment attacked the nurse without warning

A nurse suffered facial injuries after being attacked on the weekend at Abbotsford Regional Hospital.

Nurses at Abbotsford Regional Hospital (ARH) are traumatized after a colleague was injured in an unprovoked attack on Sunday, says a representative with the B.C. Nurses’ Union (BCNU).

Katherine Hamilton, BCNU’s Fraser Valley chair, said this incident has further “heightened their anxiety” and has added concerns about the safety risks that nurses face every day.

She said it’s a concern also being faced at other hospitals, including Mission Memorial, which is facing staffing and patient pressures.

“Our nurses are scared to come to work,” she said.

Fraser Health spokesman Ken Donohue said the health authority is concerned about the attack, hopes for the quick recovery of the victim, and is reviewing the incident with staff to ensure any appropriate changes are made.

“We continually work with staff to ensure the safe running of our health-care facilities … We don’t want people to get injured on the job. We want people to go home at the end of their day to the families … It’s something we take very seriously,” he said.

Abbotsford Police Const. Ian MacDonald said police were called to ARH at about 5:45 a.m. Sunday after a 39-year-old nurse was attacked by a 23-year-old man who was in the emergency department for medical and mental health treatment.

MacDonald said when police arrived, they found that the nurse had cuts above and below his eye and required stitches.

MacDonald said the alleged attacker was transferred to the psychiatric ward, and police are now recommending a charge of assault causing bodily harm.

“There was no build-up (to the assault) … just an explosive, unprovoked attack,” he said.

Hamilton said this type of attack is “not uncommon” in local hospitals, and nurses also face other types of assaults such as being sworn at, threatened, pinched and slapped.

She said ARH provides only two security guards for the entire hospital, and if those guards are busy elsewhere when an incident arises, staff must wait for police to arrive.

Donohue said three security guards were on staff during Sunday’s assault at ARH and immediately responded to the scene.

Hamilton said another issue is that the ARH emergency department does not have a “seclusion room” where agitated patients can be separated to protect the safety of staff and other patients.

She said ARH has had two previous risk assessments ordered by WorkSafeBC, which are conducted following a serious incident.

The first assessment was in 2012 after a February 2011 incident when a man with a knife jumped over a desk in triage. Staff were able to subdue the man, and no one was injured.

The second risk assessment followed an incident that occurred in 2012, when two psychiatric nurses were assaulted and injured by a patient.

The first was attacked while she was alone at the nursing station, and the second when she tried to rescue the first, according to the WorkSafeBC website.

The assessment found that workers were at “high risk of violence” and identified engineering controls and changes to policy and procedures.

According to WorkSafeBC, the plan was “not completely carried out for financial reasons.” ARH was fined $75,000 in May 2014 for not complying with the changes.

“The employer’s failure to implement necessary risk-reduction measures identified in its own assessment constituted reckless disregard for the safety of workers,” WorkPlaceBC stated.

Donohue said Fraser Health has since complied with the changes and currently has no outstanding issues through WorkSafeBC.

He said, in terms of workplace safety, Fraser Health provides extensive training and education for staff to identify potential risks, regularly reviews all incidents of concern, provides debriefing to staff following an incident, looks at the physical infrastructure to see where changes need to be made, and conducts violence prevention risk assessments.

But the nature of the job means that not every incident can be prevented.

“It’s a very unpredictable environment we work in,” he said.

Hamilton said there are also concerns regarding Mission Memorial Hospital (MMH). She said the biggest issues there are “severe understaffing and overcapacity,” which can contribute in part to safety risks to nurses.

She said MMH is funded to provide staffing for 24 beds but has up to 39 patients on its medical unit at any one time.

“When you’re working short-staffed, you’re not safe,” she said.

BCNU vice-president Christine Sorensen said the union wants health authorities to implement policies that include better security and training, appropriate staffing, prompt incident reporting and investigations, and adequate support for nurses who are impacted by violence and its aftermath.

“Nurses are professionals who provide care and they should not end up as patients due to violence,” she said.

Statistics obtained by The Abbotsford News for a January 2014 report on violence against nurses indicated that there were 33 incidents of violence and aggression at ARH in 2013. Seventy-three per cent of those reports involved physical abuse.

The report also showed that Mission RCMP responded to 50 calls to MMH in 2013.

But a BCNU spokesman at the time said many of the incidents go unreported, as nurses are likely to file an official report only when an injury results.