British Columbia

Coquitlam psychiatric hospital fined almost $650K after nurses attacked

The $646,304.88 fine marks the largest penalty issued by WorkSafeBC in the history of the province, according to the B.C. Nurses Union.

Largest penalty issued by WorkSafeBC in the history of the province, nurses union says

The Forensic Psychiatric Hospital has received one of the largest WorkSafeBC fines in the province's history following repeated instances of failure to ensure the safety of workers. (CBC)

A Coquitlam psychiatric hospital has been fined almost $650,000 for failing to maintain a safe workplace after two nurses were attacked by patients last spring.

The Forensic Psychiatric Hospital — a 190-bed facility that treats mentally ill patients who have been accused of crimes — has been the subject of numerous workplace assaults and complaints.

WorkSafeBC looked into two separate incidents involving assaults on nurses in March of 2018. A lengthy investigation concluded with the largest fine levied by the organization in its history, according to the B.C. Nurses Union (BCNU).

Union officials say the recovering nurses remain physically and mentally traumatized while violent attacks on members and staff still occur at the site.

"Many nurses at that site have been victims of violence," said Christine Sorensen, the BCNU president. "[Nurses tell me] they go to work every day fearful that they'll be injured again."

The fine totals $646,304.88 and the BCNU may request that the funds be invested into workplace safety and prevention programs.

Christine Sorensen, the president of the B.C. Nurses Union, says the Forensic Psychiatric Hospital is one of the most high-risk hospitals for nurses in B.C. (Jon Hernandez/CBC)

A history of violence

This isn't the first time the hospital has been hit with a fine. Since 2014, the hospital has paid nearly $100,000 in total for other safety-related infractions.

Last summer, two nurses were attacked by patients at the Coquitlam hospital within the same week. In 2012, a nurse was stabbed at the site.

The assaults have ignited calls for more safety protection officers on site.

"I think every one of those incidents could have been prevented with the appropriate staffing, with the appropriate resources in place to supervise and redirect particular patients who were starting to escalate and appear to be moving towards physical violence," said Sorensen.

WorkSafeBC said the size of the fine partly reflects the employer's history of repeat safety violations.

The Forensic Psychiatric Hospital is over 30 years old. Nurses union officials say upgrades could make the facility safer for staff. (Provincial Health Services Authority)

A new action plan

According to the hospital, which is run by the Provincial Health Services Authority, safety measures have been put in place over the past nine months.

Following the 2018 incidents, the hospital commissioned an external review into its services, which prompted an action plan to improve safety.

As of September 2018,  the hospital has hired additional security officers, improved training and added more clinical staff. In that time, the number of WorkSafeBC claims has dropped, according to an official statement from the hospital.

"As a result of these changes we announced in the fall and others in our action plan, aggressive incidents have decreased significantly," said Lynn Pelletier, vice president at B.C. Mental Health and Substance Use Services, in an emailed statement.

"This plan in place has been co-developed with the unions," adds Pelletier.