A CBC investigation has found incidents involving violent or potentially violent patients known as 'code whites' happen at least ten times a day in B.C.'s hospitals.

Tracy Quewezance

B.C. Nurses Union regional chair Tracy Quewezance says nurses do not have reliable 'duress' paging systems to protect themselves in emergencies. (CBC)

A major investigation is underway in Kamloops, B.C. after a nurse was assaulted on a psychiatric ward at the Hillside Centre in December.

B.C. Nurses Union regional chair Tracy Quewezance says the incident started with a psychiatric patient's simple request for toast.

"[The nurse] had indicated that she was just busy with another patient and that she would be with him in a minute and the patient assaulted her, punched her in the face, held her down by her hair," says Quewezance.

Top 5 hospitals for 'code whites' in 2013

  • Royal Jubilee Hospital in Victoria - 384
  • Nanaimo Regional General Hospital - 351
  • Hillside Centre in Kamloops - 288
  • Vancouver General Hospital - 275
  • Kelowna General Hospital - 198

Quewezance says it took several workers to pull the man off of her. The man had been transferred to Kamloops from Colony Farm, a secure forensic mental hospital.

Hillside Centre

Hillside Centre in Kamloops where a nurse required medical treatment after being punched in the face and was left so traumatized she was off work for weeks. WorkSafeBC says the patient's care plan did not include 'adequate information' about him. (CBC)

Nurses say he had a long history of violence that was not clearly documented on his chart.

"A week prior to that a nurse was kicked in the knee by this gentleman while she was trying to clean his room. Two days before this incident, he attacked another nurse as well,"  Quewezance said.

She say the man cannot handle being told "no" but the nurse on shift learned that the hard way.

Health Authority says could have done better

Sandy da Silva, with the Interior Health Authority, says they were working with the best information available at the time.

Natalie and Tracy Quewezance

CBC reporter Natalie Clancy and B.C. Nurses Union regional chair Tracy Quewezance pour over WorSafeBC inspection reports (CBC)

"We went with the information we were given and we went with the presentation of the client as he was, da Silva said. 

"Was this an unfortunate response? Absolutely. Have we already learned prior to the WorkSafe report coming out some things we will be doing differently? Absolutely." 

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Worksafe launched a special investigation that is still underway. On December 20th an inspector found the employer in contravention of regulations, saying the man's care plan did "not include adequate information on the patient's triggers for violent behaviour."

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Health officials say the code white procedure was followed.

"Within 25 seconds we had a response team in there and within two minutes the nurse was walking back into the nursing station and she completed her shift after that," says da Silva.

But nurses, who say da Silva's claim is untrue, are furious. They say management is downplaying the seriousness of the assault and that the nurse, in fact, went to the emergency room and was so traumatized she did not return to work for weeks.

Sandy da Silva

Sandy da Silva with the Interior Health Authority says of the patient assault they were operating with the best information they had at the time, but admits procedures need to change. (CBC)

The duress paging system for nurses is also on WorkSafe's radar, according to an April 2013 inspection report.

Management says it's working. Still, nurses say it is not.

Quewezance says the paging system has been unreliable for two years. 

"The button is pressed and it shows a different location than where the staff that pressed the button is in trouble at," she says.

"It's not reliable and I know of times where nurses have pressed the button and it has not worked at all," she says.

A requests for proposals is out and health officials are hoping to purchase a new duress system by the end of the year.