New Brunswick

Nurses union demands better security as trial begins for man accused of hospital attack

The trial of the man accused of attacking two nurses at the Dr. Georges-L.-Dumont Hospital in Moncton in March, 2019 is scheduled to begin Monday.

Randy Van Horlick, 69, faces two counts of assault causing bodily harm after attack on Moncton nurses

Randy Van Horlick, right, seen with with Gorham Vandebeek LLP articling student Alex Pate at an earlier court appearance. Van Horlick has pleaded not guilty to two charges of assault causing bodily harm in connection with an attack at a Moncton hospital. (Jean Philippe Hughes/Radio Canada )

Dozens of nurses protested outside the Moncton courthouse Monday morning as the trial got underway for a man accused of attacking two nurses at the Dr. Georges-L.-Dumont Hospital in Moncton in March 2019 started Monday.

Bruce (Randy) Van Horlick, 69, has pleaded not guilty to two counts of assault causing bodily harm.

Shouting "Enough is enough," the nurses were drawing attention to what they say is a lack of hospital security provincewide, which has put their safety at risk. 

Registered nurse Natasha Poirier told CBC News in June 2019 that she was attacked in her office at the hospital and described a brutal beating she said lasted for 14 minutes and left her thinking she was "going to die." 

Her nose was broken and she suffered head injuries.

Poirier said two female nurses attempted to get the attacker off her, and one was injured as a result.

In June 2019, Natasha Poirier described the alleged attack and the physical and emotional toll it took. She said her nose was broken and she suffered brain trauma. (CBC)

Teresa Thibeault, a licensed practical nurse, was named as the victim when a second assault charge was later laid against Van Horlick.

You can't put a price tag on safety

Members of the New Brunswick Nurses Union rallied around Poirier, with dozens showing their support by marching at the Moncton courthouse when charges were officially laid against Van Horlick in June 2019.

Paula Doucet, president of the union, said the issue of violence in hospitals goes beyond this incident. She calls the state of security within the province's hospitals, "appalling."

New Brunswick Nurses Union president Paula Doucet said, 'I don't know how many more incidents like that it will take for the [regional health authorities] and government to do the right thing for workers in the health care facilities and ensure that we have proper security in place.' (CBC)

The union contends there's an inadequate number of properly trained 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

New documents obtained by Radio-Canada show in one case there were no security guards available to provide services at the Hôtel-Dieu Saint-Joseph hospital in Saint-Quentin from June 22 to Oct. 5, 2019.

"We have to be looking at another solution to ensure that health care workers are kept safe," Doucet said. "Everyone is put at risk on a daily basis when there is not sufficient security within the facilities."

Stéphane Legacy, who speaks for Vitalité Health Network, confirmed there was no security at the Saint-Quentin hospital during that three month stretch last year.

In order to attract more trained security guards, Doucet wants hospitals to find a way to increase their wages. 

"I think it's terrible that the [Regional Health Authorities] are putting a price tag on the safety and security of their employees," she said.

Government concerned

Doucet points to the assault on Poirier as a prime example of what can go wrong when there isn't adequate security in place.

"I don't know how many more incidents like that it will take for the RHAs and government to do the right thing for workers in the health care facilities and ensure that we have proper security in place."

Dept. of Health spokesperson, Bruce MacFarlane, said in a statement that government is concerned and is monitoring the situation closely.

He said recommendations from the regional health authorities will help to determine the best way to strengthen essential services in New Brunswick hospitals.