The BC Nurses’ Union (BCNU) has confirmed that a nurse was assaulted last month in the same unit of Abbotsford Regional Hospital (ARH) where a patient struck a nurse with a dumbbell in 2019.
The assault occurred Monday, Feb. 22 in the Baker 2 ward.
BCNU president Christine Sorensen said, due to privacy issues, she can’t give specific details about the incident, including the nature of the assault and the injuries sustained by the nurse.
“What I can tell you is that …. the nurse was assaulted so badly that they had to be assessed in the emergency room. They did take some time off, and I believe they’re still off,” she said.
“There were a number of other nurses who were witness to the assault and also had to participate in redirecting the patient and protecting the nurse, and those nurses are also quite traumatized.”
Sorensen said the patient was “known to have a history of violence, and efforts were being made to help manage his care” at the time of the attack.
She said the nurses involved have received critical incident stress debriefing and have been directed to access further support services if needed.
A Fraser Health spokesman also confirmed the incident, saying on March 4 that the nurse who was assaulted is recovering from minor injuries.
“We are providing support to the nurse and have implemented an updated care plan for this patient that includes having security in the room and two care staff when the patients requires care,” he stated in an email.
Sgt. Judy Bird said the Abbotsford Police Department attended, but no charges are being recommended due to the patient’s “diminished mental capacity” at the time of the assault.
Sorensen said violence against nurses has been an issue for years, and the BCNU has been calling for safety officers to be implemented at 21 high-risk sites across the province, including ARH.
The COVID-19 pandemic has intensified these issues, she said.
“Many people are very frustrated that their family members perhaps aren’t getting the care as quickly as they may have wanted. People are equally frustrated now about the vaccine rollout. Unfortunately, we do see the anxiety and frustration in the public transfer to how they interact with nurses,” Sorensen said.
She said additional strain has resulted from the increasing numbers of people being admitted for mental-health concerns who are often not able to be placed in a psychiatric unit. Instead, they are placed in hallways, emergency departments or other units, she added.
Sorensen said inappropriate staffing levels is another factor that contributes to violence. There was already a national nursing shortage but the pandemic has contributed to more nurses being off work due to issues such as illness and burnout, she said.
“If there are not enough nurses to be able to provide care, patient care can be delayed. Patients and family members can be frustrated. Patients may need pain medication or anti-anxiety medication in a timely fashion so they may then strike out because they’re in pain or distressed,” Sorensen said.
She said the government needs to address the issues and do more to ensure that nurses are safe.
“It’s just completely unacceptable that nurses continue to be assaulted.”
A previous assault on the Baker 2 ward occurred on Sept. 24, 2019 when a patient struck a nurse in the face with a dumbbell. The nurse’s injuries included a broken jaw, fractured cheek bone and damaged teeth.
The patient, Neale Heath, was charged and later sentenced to three months in jail after pleading guilty to assault causing bodily harm.
The Fraser Health spokesman said that following that incident, ARH implemented new measures, including: better tools to identify and manage aggressive and potentially violent patients, increased security guard presence in the hospital, advanced violent prevention training for all unit staff, routine audits of appropriate care procedures and ongoing physical safety enhancements.
The spokesman said Fraser Health has also implemented tools such as the “coloured dot system” to identify behavioural issues in a patient’s chart and regular safety inspections to ensure areas are free of sharp objects and other potentially harmful items.
A nurse also suffered injuries in an assault in the ARH emergency department in 2015.
In that incident, a man was awaiting medical and mental-health treatment when he attacked a nurse, who suffered cuts that required stitches above and below his eye.