A call for a corner’s inquest into the beating death of St. Joseph’s Healthcare patient will bring to light workplace safety issues, hospital union representatives say.

A noon-hour rally Thursday, organized by the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions and the Canadian Union of Public Employees’ hospital division, outside St. Joseph's West 5th psyhciatric unit. About 100 people attended.

"We’re here to mark the tragic death of Michael Brewer, a patient at this facility, who was beaten to death on that soccer field two weeks ago," said Michael Hurley, Ontario Council of Hospital Unions president.

Brewser, 30, was a patient of the forensic psychiatry unit at St. Joseph’s West 5th campus. He died May 23 from blunt force trauma to his head. No weapon was used, said Hamilton Police in a statement shortly after his death.

A fellow patient, Tyler Michael Valcheff, 32, was later charged with second-degree murder.


Supports drop flowers on a makeshift memorial for former St. Joseph's patient Michael Brewer. (Julia Chapman/CBC)

The attack happened on a soccer field on the hospital’s property, said Kyla Kumar, the hospital's public affairs manager told CBC Hamilton the night of the incident. Both men had privileges to leave the hospital building, Kumar said.

Hurley wrote a letter to Ontario’s chief coroner requesting an inquest into Brewer’s death with hopes it could bring other issues to light.

"We're requesting an inquest so there would be an open, transparent opportunity for evidence to be looked at, some of the systemic problems underlying this tragic death," he said.

Hurley said patient overcrowding and lack of security in the medium-security ward where Brewer and Valcheff lived was a problem.

"Members who work in the psychiatric unit in this hospital have been assaulted, repeatedly, violently, and have seen other patients assaulted brutally," he said during his speech at the rally.

Hospital president Dr. David Higgins rejected the union claims.

"I find it disappointing frankly," Higgins, president of St. Joseph’s Healthcare told CBC Hamilton.

"We carefully monitor our patients and staff accordingly. We are not overcrowded." 

Higgins said the ward has room for 30 patients, but on average has 22. He said the death has been distressing for staff.

"They feel they work as professionals, they care for the patients effectively and have not heard through the channels – the many channels we have in this hospital for bringing these issues forward – this has not been brought to my attention through those channels at all by CUPE or the union."

Local city councilor Terry Whitehead attended Thursday’s rally to listen to what the hospital unions had to say.

"They are at the frontlines and I can only listen to them," said Whitehead. "I believe there have been constraints put on them because of budgets by the provincial government and when it comes to health and safety, it should not be compromised."

Whitehead said he is meeting with hospital administration next week to discuss some of the issues raised Thursday.