Manitoba premier defends province's handling of meth issues after hospital staff assaulted

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister has refused to categorize the province's meth crisis as an emergency after Winnipeg hospital staff were assaulted by people they believe had used the drug, but that doesn't mean he isn't taking the crisis seriously, he says.

'I would not want to overstate the problem, nor are we failing to consider the seriousness of the problem'

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister acknowledged Thursday that front-line staff are feeling unsafe at hospitals and the problem must be addressed quickly. (John Woods/Canadian Press)

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister refuses to categorize the province's meth crisis as an emergency after Winnipeg hospital staff were assaulted by people they believe had used the drug.

But that doesn't mean he isn't aware of the havoc methamphetamine is causing, the premier said Thursday morning.

"It's not a question of labels, it's a question of acting," he said.

"Any time that a front-line worker is fearful in their job, I want to make sure that that fear goes away fast, because we value our front-line people. They're providing care not just to those who are choosing to use meth, but a lot of other people who have issues."

Pallister was responding to a call from Health Sciences Centre staff for more security, on-site police and even metal detectors to protect them from patients mired in drug-induced psychoses.

The issue made headlines Wednesday when security footage obtained by CBC showed a nurse and three security officers being assaulted by a patient at Health Sciences Centre on Aug. 31. Winnipeg police believe the patient was on methamphetamine.

Watch the Aug. 31 attack on a staff member at Health Sciences Centre:

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

On Wednesday, two more security officers were assaulted by a patient at the same hospital. Meth is not considered a factor in those attacks, police said.

The Liberal Party asked the government last week to declare a public health emergency to help combat the problem.

Staff's fear concerning: Pallister

Pallister said the assaults are worrisome, regardless of whether meth is to blame.

"The issue is the increasing frequency and the danger that people feel exists around their workplace and in their communities," he said.

"It is getting [news] coverage now, and it deserves to, but it's not a new issue. I've talked to premiers at meetings about their drug problems since I became premier. I can tell you that in every jurisdiction, it's a problem."

He argued against charges from opposition parties that he isn't doing enough to address the meth crisis, referring to the recent opening of walk-in rapid access clinics and more beds at HSC to accommodate people struggling with addictions.

The premier would not say whether more security staff or police officers should be assigned to HSC, but did say any provincial strategy must consider prevention.

Despite the recent news, people should not be frightened to go to a hospital, Pallister said.

"I would not want to overstate the problem, nor are we failing to consider the seriousness of the problem," he said. "There's a balance that has to be respected."

Health Minister Cameron Friesen visited HSC Thursday morning to speak with the hospital's leadership about the recent assaults.

"I saw a professional workforce that faces challenges every day," he said at the Manitoba Legislature during Thursday afternoon's question period. "I saw the evidence of courtesy in the face of challenge."

He encouraged the Opposition to join his government in finding a collaborative approach to deterring the workplace violence.

About the Author

Ian Froese

Reporter

Ian Froese is a reporter at CBC Manitoba. He previously wrote about rural Manitoba for the Brandon Sun and the Carillon in Steinbach. Story idea? Email ian.froese@cbc.ca.