New Brunswick

Nurses union calls on province to address 'security crisis' at hospitals

The New Brunswick Nurses Union is calling on the Blaine Higgs government to address what it calls a "security crisis" at hospitals across the province.

Data obtained through Right to Information shows inadequate number of trained security guards, says president

Paula Doucet, president of the New Brunswick Nurses Union, said nurses are 'fed up' with the violence they face at work. (CBC)

The New Brunswick Nurses Union is calling on the Blaine Higgs government to address what it calls a "security crisis" at hospitals across the province.

The union contends there's an inadequate number of properly trained and educated security guards at New Brunswick's hospitals, with nearly half of the positions vacant, according to documents it obtained from the regional health authorities through an access-to-information request.

"The information we received described a dangerous and unacceptable state-of-affairs" for staff and patients alike, union president Paula Doucet said in a statement Tuesday.

There are 48 unfilled security guard positions out of a total of 93 as of May 1, according to the union.

In addition, there's an 82 per cent turnover rate annually and two-thirds of security personnel feel they don't have the resources they need to succeed in their jobs.

"It's alarming," said Doucet.

"Even more startling was the fact that these lack of measures have been known to exist by our employers for quite some time now and nothing has been done."

Hundreds of violent incidents

Doucet said Horizon Health Network experienced 1,005 violent incidents in 2017-2018, and the Vitalité Health Network saw 586.

Horizon and Vitalité raised "red flags" regarding security measures as early as August 2018, according to the documents.

Although violence used to be considered just part of the job, nurses are "fed up," said Doucet.

The catalyst was an alleged attack on a nurse at the Dr.-Georges-L.-Dumont University Hospital Centre in March and the alleged assault on a licensed practical nurse who reportedly tried to intervene.

Nurse Natasha Poirier, who previously told CBC News she suffered head trauma and a broken nose in the alleged attack, said she continues to suffer physical and mental effects and has not returned to work.

Nurse Natasha Poirier said she thought she was going to die during the alleged attack that lasted 14 minutes. She wears sunglasses because the concussion made her eyes more sensitive to light. (CBC)

"The mindset is changing, they don't want it anymore," said Doucet.

"This information that was uncovered fundamentally puts our members at risk and [the nurses union] views this matter as a clear violation of our collective agreements, a crisis in workplace health and safety at New Brunswick hospitals and a [detriment] to patient safety."

On April 1, new regulations specific to workplace violence and harassment were added to the Occupational Health and Safety Act, which hold employers responsible for reporting such issues. In addition, the nurses' collective agreement requires the government, through the regional health authorities, to comply with the act.

'Some improvements can always be implemented'

In an emailed statement, Health Minister Hugh Flemming said, "Violence against nurses, or any other employee in hospitals — or any workplace — is not acceptable."

Government officials met with the nurses union in July to discuss this "important issue" and will continue to work with the regional health authorities and other stakeholders to "address these matters," he said.

It's the responsibility of the regional health authorities to provide and maintain a safe and secure hospital environment for staff, patients and visitors, Flemming added.

Health Minister Hugh Flemming said violence in any workplace is unacceptable. (CBC)

Vitalité spokesperson Thomas Lizotte said the health and safety of its employees is "a priority."

"While we believe that some improvements can always be implemented, the fact remains that efforts to provide comprehensive staff protection are concrete, consistent and done on a daily basis," Lizotte said in an email.

"The network guaranteed that it will [honour] its promise to pursue its efforts towards the health and safety of employees to provide staff with a stimulating, motivating as well as a safe work environment."

As of 6 p.m., Horizon had not provided an interview or comment.

Security company responds

GardaWorld, which provides security to all but one of the province's hospitals, said it has comprehensive recruitment, training and retention programs in place.

"In New Brunswick, we must contend with a full-employment labour market, which is not unique to our industry, but despite this, GardaWorld continues to leverage its recruitment programs to fulfil evolving needs, and turnover rates that are in line with industry standards," the company's "media team" said in an emailed statement.

The Dumont hospital in Moncton uses GardaWorld security staff.

Charges in 2 alleged assaults

Poirier previously told CBC News she was working in her office at the hospital on March 11 when the husband of a patient she didn't know entered around 2 p.m. and demanded his wife be moved to a different room.

She said the man pulled her off her chair by the hair, grabbed her by the wrist and shook her arm repeatedly, bent her fingers back and then struck her in the left temple multiple times until she briefly lost consciousness. When she opened her eyes, he punched her in the nose twice and threw her against the walls twice, she said.

Randy Van Horlick, right, pictured here in July with articling student Alex Pate, is scheduled to stand trial in February. (Jean Philippe Hughes/Radio Canada )

Poirier said she thought she was going to die during the alleged attack, which lasted about 14 minutes before a licensed practical nurse tried to stop the attack and was injured in the attempt.

Bruce Randolph (Randy) Van Horlick, 69, has pleaded not guilty to two counts of assault causing bodily harm to Poirier and Teresa Thibeault in connection with the alleged incident.

He is scheduled to stand trial Feb. 3, 2020. Four days have been set aside.

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this story stated the Dumont hospital has its own security staff. In fact, the hospital uses GardaWorld security staff.
    Sep 11, 2019 9:40 AM AT

With files from Tori Weldon

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