London’s largest hospital will use metal detectors, add security and revamp how it protects staff and patients from violence, the changes coming after a patient with a violent history sexually assaulted a nurse in the psychiatric ward on Easter Sunday.
The assault didn’t come to light untilThe Free Presslearned of a deal between the London Health Sciences Centre (LHSC) and the Ontario Nurses’ Association (ONA) to settle a complaint by the union to Ontario’s Labour Ministry, an agreementThe Free Presshas obtained - writes lfpress.com.
The deal came about after the union aggressively pressed its case.
A local union official who first blew the whistle on what happened said she was shocked by the response of a ministry inspector.
The inspector said the matter was only a case of sexual harassment and that the patient’s history of violence outside the hospital should be ignored, the union maintains.
While the inspector visited the hospital, she didn’t interview any staff, instead relying on a report produced by the hospital.
The ministry didn’t appear to take the incident seriously until the union’s provincial president, Linda Haslam-Stroud, phoned Labour Minister Kevin Flynn.
“We did have to escalate our concerns to have a proper investigation,” said James Murray, a registered nurse and president of Local 100 of the ONA, which represents more than 3,000 nurses in London.
The settlement between the union and the hospital, mediated by the Labour Ministry, provides a chronology of inspections but does not name inspectors.
A second investigation was done in June that laid the groundwork for a settlement with the union that requires the hospital to implement several changes.
The changes are:
• Place a security guard 16 hours a day near the entrance to the psychiatric ward on the seventh floor of Victoria hospital; only orderlies worked there before.
• By Jan.15, empower security to searchall patients in, and visitors to, thepsychiatric ward, using a wand-type metal detector.
• Flag when a person’s history suggests they pose a higher risk of violence. The flags will take two forms — virtual ones in a patient’s electronic records and paper reminders placed in charts or on the doors to rooms — and must be in place by May1.
• Enhance training for staff who work in higher-risk wards, including the ER, the psychiatric ward, a second-floor annex used to house patients with mental illness for whom there is no space in the main ward, an outpatient clinic for those with mental illness, a ward for elderly with behavioural problems and the medical ward whose patients can include injection drug users, even drug dealers, according to the union.
• Build physical barriers at the entrances to nurses’ stations.
• Hire a third party to assess the hospital’s security measures.
• Discuss with alarm maker Honeywell ways to improve the hospital’s panic alarm system.
The need for a better alarm system became evident during the April assault, Murray said. It took about 10 minutes for security to arrive. The nurse was able to get away from the patient, or the assault might have been even worse, Murray contends.
Staff carry alarms that are triggered when held down for three seconds, but the alarms also sound if staff lean on them or leave their designated work area.
So, when an alarm sounds, security in a central office checks if the alert is real by phoning the general area. The alarms lack GPS. During the Easter assault, security called the ward, but spoke to a staffer too far away to see anything wrong, so security didn’t respond initially, Murray said.
Hospital leadership say they’re taking safety seriously.
“LHSC is committed to providing high-quality and safe patient care. We also consider staff safety to be a critical component of this commitment. We are pleased to have reached an agreement with the Ministry of Labour and (the union),” Susan Nickle, the hospital’s vice-president of people and culture, said in an email toThe Free Press.
“We are looking at using metal detection wands as an additional precaution to protect staff from any sharp metallic objects people may have.”
Murray said he hopes the hospital will expand the use of metal detectors beyond the psychiatric ward to include other higher-risk areas, such as the ER.
Assaults like the one at LHSC show the Liberal government needs to do more to protect health-care workers, said MPP Peggy Sattler (NDP – London West).
“It’s very alarming,” she said.
Health Minister Eric Hoskins said the government has done much to protect health-care workers, but more is needed.
“Since 2007, our government has invested more than $20million in developing resources to educate and train our front-line staff to support healthier work environments and improve patient care. We know we need to do more to take concrete steps to change attitudes, provide support for prevention, and make health-care workplaces safer and more responsive to incidents of violence,” Laura Gallant said in an email.
“A provincewide initiative is also underway that is focusing specifically on workplace violence in hospitals. It runs until March 31, 2018. Going forward, the Ministry of Labour continues to conduct safety blitzes annually,” Gallant wrote.
But research unveiled this week in London suggests the reported violence against health-care workers is just the tip of the iceberg. The study, called Assaulted and Unheard: Violence Against Healthcare, paints a disturbing picture of violence in Ontario health-care facilities, the research based on interviews with 54 health-care workers from across the province.
“Violence in Ontario’s health-care system has come to be seen as normal or as unavoidable,” wrote authors James Brophy of the University of Stirling, and his wife, Margaret Keith, of the University of Windsor.
Their work was funded by the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions and the Canadian Union of Public Employees.
“Health-care workers interviewed for this study reported that they are largely barred from speaking publicly about the assaults they experience. This restriction serves to keep the problem hidden from public view and scrutiny.
“(Whistle-blower) protection must be put in place for workers who choose to talk about their experiences, while recognizing the importance of protecting patient confidentiality,” the authors concluded.
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