HSC limiting after-hours access to some units to improve security

Health Sciences Centre plans to restrict after-hours access to select inpatient departments in an effort to improve security.

Visitors to adult medicine, surgery, rehab and addictions units will be screened after 8:30 p.m.

Health Sciences Centre will restrict access to certain units after hours in an effort to improve security. (Darren Bernhardt/CBC)

Health Sciences Centre plans to restrict after-hours access to select in-patient departments in an effort to improve security.

On a trial basis starting Wednesday, access to adult medicine, surgery, rehab and addictions in-patient care units will be limited after 8:30 p.m. until regular visiting hours resume at 8:30 a.m.

Exterior doors at the hospital are locked after 8:30 p.m. and security staff screen anyone requesting access, but now hospital staff in the affected in-patient care units will further screen anyone wanting to visit those units. The hospital will keep track of all visitors.

After-hours access to those trial units will be limited to patients receiving palliative, end-of-life care or during critical changes to a patient's condition. Also, patients will be able to designate one or two people as their family supports, who will be allowed to HSC at any time.

"Common sense and compassion will be applied to individual situations to ensure we balance access, safety and patients' need for rest," Ronan Segrave, HSC interim chief operating officer, said in a news release.

The change comes after a series of incidents involving patients presenting with aggressive and unpredictable behaviour, often involving crystal meth use. In one incident, a man believed to be high on meth attacked a nurse and three security officers.

"Clearly I'm deeply concerned and troubled by that incident and indeed, any other incident that involves a violent assault on a member of staff or … a visitor or patient," Segrave said in an interview.

Guards need 'elevated legal authority': MGEU

Manitoba Government and General Employees' Union president Michelle Gawronsky called the limits on after-hours visitors "a step in the right direction," but said the government, the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority and HSC officials are still ignoring the real concerns of security and hospital staff. 

"The real concern is that these security officers need elevated legal authority to uphold safety in our hospitals," Gawronsky said in an email statement. 

The province needs to designate HSC security guards as peace officers, special constables, or some new classification, she said.

"We remain hopeful that we'll see some real change before someone is seriously injured."

Segrave said all security officers receive specialist training on how to intervene in violent situations.

"All of our security officers are able to use reasonable force where needed and where required to respond to a situation within the emergency department," he said. 

The hospital has also hired more security in its adult emergency department, increased security patrols around the hospital and parkade, and implemented a violence prevention program. 

With files from Erin Brohman.