'Wild' month at Concordia Hospital caused by crystal meth, says health region

November was "wild" at Concordia Hospital because the hospital saw more patients suffering effects of crystal meth addiction not because there was a jump in patients arriving by ambulance, the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority says.

Internal memo says nurse hit by garbage can, 57% increase in ambulance offloads

Winnipeg Regional Health Authority says it's seeing more patients arrive intoxicated by crystal meth at emergency rooms across the city. (CBC)

Crystal meth made for a "wild" November at Concordia Hospital, officials say. 

An internal newsletter sent to staff at Concordia Hospital described November as a "wild one" for the emergency room, according to a portion of the letter sent to CBC by the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority.

The incomplete letter says ambulance "offloads" increased at the hospital by 57 per cent compared to November 2016.

Patients arrived intoxicated by drugs, alcohol or a combination of both, the letter said.

"Many of the patients… were very aggressive, resulting in many more code whites being called and in one case a nurse being hit with a garbage can."

Code whites are called when violent incidents happen.

Lori Lamont, acting chief operating officer for the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority, said Friday that the concerns aren't related to more patients arriving at Concordia by ambulance as a result of the closure of the emergency room at Victoria General Hospital and urgent care centre at Misericordia Health Centre. 

Lamont says hospitals across the city are seeing more meth users. Crystal meth is known to cause aggressive behaviour, she said.

"While I'm not the author of that newsletter that is likely is what was being referred to. We do know they have seen slightly more cases and those cases we know are challenging. Individuals when they are high on crystal meth are unpredictable," she said.

The WRHA did not have empirical data it could provide to CBC to back up the claim crystal meth use is behind abuse of staff or violence in emergency rooms. Based on anecdotes only, the health authority said it knows the street drug is a "contributing factor."

Lamont added Concordia had the capacity to absorb more patients from ambulances because it sees lower numbers of walk-in patients than at other hospitals in Winnipeg.

Nurses' union 'very concerned' 

Sandi Mowat, president of the Manitoba Nurses' Union, says security in emergency rooms has long been a problem but has become more dire since the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority closed the emergency room at Victoria General Hospital and urgent care centre at Misericordia Health Centre.

"Certainly now with the consolidation and the possibility of increased visits, we are very concerned that these types of incidents will happen more often," she said.

Mowat said better training and more security staff should be considered to keep workplaces safe, especially as meth use seems to rise in the city.

Lamont said the health region is currently conducting a review of the number of patients coming in with crystal meth in their systems and ways hospitals can respond.

"We need to make sure what we're planning for is in fact what we're seeing come in through the door," she said.

Lamont said part of that review will look at whether the health system is equipped to help meth addicts with both short-term health concerns and recovery support.

"There's no question that long-term treatment is needed," she said.

The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority planned to close Concordia's emergency room along with the emergency room at Seven Oaks General Hospital in the spring or summer.

In December the province said that plan may have been too ambitious but did not provide a revised date for the closures.