Manitoba

Role of new security guard at HSC emergency room unclear, MGEU argues

The union representing security officers at a Winnipeg hospital rocked by a series of violent assaults says another guard won't make a big difference because they cannot intervene physically.

Internal memo states guard can only intervene physically in self-defence or egregious events

Michelle Gawronsky, president of the Manitoba Government and General Employees' Union, says security guards need the authority to intervene when violent situations go down, which the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority argues hospital security personnel already have. (Travis Golby/CBC)

The union representing security officers at a Winnipeg hospital rocked by a series of violent assaults says hiring another guard won't make a big difference because they cannot intervene physically. 

An internal memo detailing the Health Sciences Centre's response to escalating physical violence at the hospital states the new guard is not expected to respond physically, except in cases of self-defence or an "egregious event" where an officer's "moral duty to assist" would take over.

Based on that directive, it isn't clear when security guards can step in, the Manitoba Government and General Employees' Union is arguing.

"It doesn't make a difference," said president Michelle Gawronsky. "Add 15 bodies, if they don't have the authority to provide the protection, they don't have the authority."

The new hire comes only days after CBC News released a video of a patient attacking three security officers and a nurse on Aug. 31. The attack, likely fuelled by meth, police say, renewed calls for more support for security, on-site police and even metal detectors to protect against rising violence. 

Watch video of HSC patient's attack on staff:

The CBC obtained this footage of an incident that occurred at the Health Sciences Centre on Aug. 31. 0:18

The email describing the new guard's responsibilities states the additional officer will be stationed at the entrance to the adult emergency room to "provide a safer work environment for all staff."

The guard from the Garda security firm cannot leave their post, and must direct people entering the emergency department to an appropriate area, according to the memo obtained by CBC News.

The officer will not receive a radio because of their proximity to other security guards, the memo states. 

Mixed messages

Gawronsky said staff need clarity on what they can and can't do.

"They're definitely getting mixed messages. When there is a violent situation happening … do we or don't we intervene? They don't have clear direction on what is required of them and we need to have that."

Health Minister Cameron Friesen, meanwhile, is continuing to say the direction to security guards is straightforward, after MGEU raised concerns last month. These officers have the ability, training and authority to get involved, he said.

The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority said its security officers can intervene when individuals act violently, but they must adhere to the same standard as police officers: any force must be reasonable and proportional to the scenario.

Gawronsky doesn't believe HSC's security officers have that mandate.

In short, she said, the new guard is a greeter at the door, who provides direction to visitors. No disrespect to them, she said — it's just the job they have been asked to do. 

"Basically, they're doing traffic control," she said. "He doesn't have any authority. He doesn't wear the same uniform as the security officers. He doesn't even have a radio to be able to contact someone if something does happen."

'Moral obligation' raises questions

Gawronsky said she's aware of three instances where officers tried to intervene in violent situations but were reprimanded. 

That doesn't jive with what the province and WRHA is saying, she said. 

"If there is a situation that happens, there's a moral obligation that's expected of them," Gawronsky said, referring to the memo. "What exactly does that mean?"

Friesen said he's pleased a new guard has been hired to enhance security.

"HSC security officers are highly trained, receive ongoing training to respond to new challenges, and are scheduled to receive even more training in the coming weeks and months," said an email attributed to Friesen. "We will continue to monitor the scope of training HSC security officers receive in order to keep patients, visitors and staff safe."

With files from Alana Cole

About the Author

Ian Froese

Reporter

Ian Froese is a reporter with CBC Manitoba. He has previously worked for newspapers in Brandon and Steinbach. Story idea? Email: ian.froese@cbc.ca.

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