London

LHSC facing at least a dozen human rights complaints

The London Health Sciences Centre faces at least a dozen human rights complaints because of its policy of screening patients for a potential for violence and forcing them to wear purple armbands any time they're in the hospital.

After months of pressure from patients and advocates, the hospital has agreed to review the policy

The London Health Sciences Centre's Victoria Hospital and Children's Hospital in London, Ont. (Dave Chidley/CBC)

The London Health Sciences Centre faces at least a dozen human rights complaints because of its policy of screening patients for a potential for violence and forcing them to wear purple armbands any time they're in the hospital. 

Documents show that 24 human rights complaints have been filed against the hospital since May 2018, when the hospital started enforcing the purple armband policy. 

Of those, 10 specifically name the Ontario Nurses Association Local 100, which struck a deal with the hospital and the Ontario Labour Relations Board, to put the policy into place. 

Others name just the hospital. 

The human rights complaints are filed on the basis of disability, presumably mental illness. 

The hospital said it couldn't comment on the human rights complaints because they are before the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal. 

'Horrifying and egregious'

The hospital, at the end of January, agreed to review the purple armband policy after months of pressure from patients and patient advocates, who say it unfairly stigmatizes people with mental illness. 

The policy was implemented in May after a negotiated settlement between the LHSC and the Ontario Labour Relations Board and the Ontario Nurses Association.  It was meant to ensure safety of patients, visitors and staff.

At the end of January, 95 patients had filed appeals of their status as "potentially violent." 

Those who are deemed potentially violent must wear the purple armbands at all times while in the hospital, even on subsequent visits when their symptoms may have changed. 

"This is a massive violation of human rights and contradicts years of work to reduce the stigma of mental illness," said Dr. John Bradford. 

Bradford is a renowned forensic psychiatrist who is the founder of forensic psychiatry at the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons. He went public with his own battle with PTSD after years watching graphic videos made by some of Canada's most violent criminals, including Paul Bernardo and Russell Williams, in preparation for court cases. 

Victoria Hospital psychiatrists have started wearing these "Stop The Stigma" bracelets to protest a new screening tool that assesses patient risk based on past violent or aggressive behaviour. (Supplied)

"It's horrifying and egregious that this can happen in a first world country like Canada," Bradford said about the LHSC policy. 

"The solution is not to victimize people who are already victimized." 

In fact, publicly labelling people who are already suspicious and marginalized because of their illness could increase the risk of violence, Bradford said. 

Risk of violence can be managed successfully by working with patients using talk therapy and medication, Bradford said. Doctors and nurses can work together to "set an atmosphere in psychiatric facilities which has been shown to reduce violence." 

Appeal successful

Hospital officials have also refused to say how many of the 95 appeals of the violence flag, which can be launched by individual patients internally, have been successful. 

But at least one has been. 

Patient Stephanie McCabe, whose journey CBC News chronicled in January, was told last week her flag would be removed. 

McCabe launched her appeal in October. It was finally resolved four months later. 

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