Purple rings in Manitoba hospitals will warn health-care workers of potentially violent patients

Health-care workers across Manitoba are relying on two purple rings to warn them of potential danger at work.

'There was a real problem … with violence against nurses,’ says nurses union president

A Manitoba Nurses Union survey found that 30 per cent of nurses had been assaulted by patients while on the job. A new system to help designate patients who have been violent in the past is being implemented in Manitoba hospitals. (CBC)

Health-care workers across Manitoba are relying on two purple rings to warn them of potential danger at work.

The interlocking ring symbol is placed on a patient's door or in their room to notify workers that the patient has been violent in the past.

The symbol is part of the province's health care violence prevention program that started in 2011 and was meant to improve workplace safety in hospitals and personal care homes.

"We had done a study amongst our own members and recognized that there was a real problem among health-care facilities and places of health-care work with violence against nurses and health-care workers in general," said Sandi Mowat, president of the Manitoba Nurses Union, on CBC's Information Radio Tuesday morning.

Manitoba Nurses' Union president Sandi Mowat says the purple ring program was brought in to help curb the violence that health-care staff face at work. (CBC)
That survey found that 30 per cent of nurses had been assaulted and 50 per cent had been intimidated by patients while on the job.

While the union hopes the ring symbol can help violence prevention and response, before it can be brought in the staff must be trained on four modules which talk about strategies like diffusing difficult behaviour, dealing with conflict and summoning assistance when it's needed, Mowat said.

Some patients are not able to control their outbursts, but Mowat said the purple rings will not impact their right to privacy.

"There are all sorts of symbols throughout hospitals on patients' doors and in their rooms," she said.

"Certainly it's not new to patients to have some kind of a way to address some of the issues around their care. Anecdotally, we haven't heard any complaints."

In health regions outside of Winnipeg, the program is either implemented or expected to be in place by the end of April. Mowat said the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority has been slower in training its staff, although the union has been told the program will be in place by the end of the year.

"It's been a little bit frustrating. I do understand that the WRHA is a big organization and they have lots of areas," she said.

In an email to CBC, the WRHA said 13,600 members of the region's staff had done the first module of training and 9,500 had done the first and second as of Feb. 1.

Mowat said it's too soon to tell how successful the program has been, but nurses are speaking favourably about the purple rings because patients are getting better health care. 

"Part of the whole issue is developing a care plan that sort of mitigates the risk but also gives cues to why some of these behaviours happen. If you can know in advance what causes some of the behaviours to happen, you can sort of decrease those," she said.

"I think in the end, the prevention piece is a big part of why it's successful."