Manitoba

Nurse assaulted by patient at HSC suffering long term effects

A nurse at the Health Sciences Centre emergency department who was assaulted on the job has suffered lasting psychological effects and is demanding change. 

Nurse has depression, flashbacks, panic attacks after violent incident

A nurse who was assaulted by a patient at the HSC wants more safety measures put in place to protect staff from violence. (CBC News)

A nurse at the Health Sciences Centre emergency department who was assaulted on the job has suffered lasting psychological effects and is demanding change. 

The nurse, whose identity the CBC is protecting, wants metal detectors and more training for HSC security to manage daily meth-fuelled violence against staff. 

"It's absolutely awful. I tried to go to counselling. I'm on antidepressants now. I feel totally defeated. Just defeated. Because nobody's really doing anything about it," the nurse said. "Every single day there's a violent incident in HSC emerg. Every day. And no one seems to acknowledge it."

The nurse, who was involved in a violent incident last year, said all workers are affected.

"People are lashing out, hitting us, attacking us. Guns have been pulled out, weapons have been pulled out we've been threatened, punched, kicked, spat on, everything. Everything. I feel like I'm going into a knife fight without a knife," the nurse added. 

In July, Winnipeg police responded after a man pulled a gun on five security guards at the Health Sciences Centre, a first for the facility. In January, a nursing student was sexually assaulted at the Crisis Response Centre, a 24/7 mental health facility on HSC campus.

A 1,200 per cent increase in meth related visits and associated violence last year at HSC prompted calls from the nurses' union and security guards for more training and safety measures.

A video surfaced in October showing a patient going on a violent rampage against a nurse and several security staff, prompting nurses to speak out again, demanding protection. 

"Our security guards are getting hit probably on the daily. Every day. They don't have enough power to deal with what we're facing in the ER right now," said the nurse. 

"[It's] chaotic, violent, scary, every day before going to work I panic a little bit, just not knowing what's going to happen today. I feel that we're just kind of being sent into a war zone. Things are just crazy. Just the violence from people on meth."

In a statement, the WRHA said it has made "significant efforts" to make changes to the security at HSC, including restrictions to visiting hours, panic alarms for staff and increased security mobile patrols and implementing card-access for staff. 

Alterations to the visiting hours led to a "significant drop" in incidents taking place which required security intervention after hours — down 39 per cent in December and 66 per cent in January compared to the year prior, the WRHA said. 

A security review that began last fall is underway at all health care facilities in Manitoba — as violence is not unique to HSC — to evaluate security.

"My question is why is it taking so long?" asked the nurse. "We've been dealing with this now for at least two years if not longer, yet I feel nothing really has been done. They've changed our visiting hours, they've staffed our security but I don't feel that's enough."

'It's that bad'

According to the MGEU, which represents security guards at the HSC, guards have neither training in mental health nor peace officer designation, which would protect them legally for matters involving use of force.

"I want to come into work feeling safe. I want to come into work like not worried that I'm going to get a black eye. Or worse. Or get stabbed. What I want to see done is I want metal detectors. That would help me feel a lot safer. And probably the patients too," said the nurse.

"We're trying to treat you the best that we can, but our resources are run thin, we're run thin, we're overworked, we don't get breaks, we get mandated for overtime. It's really bad," the nurse said. 

"And for people to become violent, verbally aggressive, verbally abusive, whatever the case is, that just makes it harder. And that's going to compromise your care as well, as a patient. And people need to know that. We're doing the best we can with resources that we're given and we're not given much."

The nurse said for now, a metal detector would go a long way in allaying staff fears. 

"It's really quite devastating. As a nurse. Someone who was proud of their profession, no longer. I don't even want to be a nurse anymore. It's that bad."