Nova Scotia

Pregnant nurse attacked by patient a week after safety concerns dismissed, says union

The head of the province's largest union says warnings about unreliable panic alarms at the East Coast Forensic Hospital were dismissed by authorities a week before a patient beat a pregnant nurse who was treating her.

Union says nurse's personal security alarm wasn't working properly

The woman, who is 33 weeks pregnant, was attacked on Monday while she was caring for a patient at the East Coast Forensic Psychiatric Hospital in Dartmouth. (Jean Laroche/CBC)

The union that represents employees at the East Coast Forensic Hospital says its concerns about unreliable panic alarms were dismissed just a week before a patient attacked a pregnant nurse, who is now in hospital getting ready to deliver her baby.

According to Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union president Jason MacLean, the lack of action by the Nova Scotia Health Authority placed both the nurse and her baby in jeopardy.

"Our members are not safe at all," said MacLean.

The union said the woman, who is 33 weeks pregnant, was attacked on Monday while she was caring for a patient at the Dartmouth psychiatric hospital, which deals with mentally ill offenders. The patient needed constant observation, according to the union.

Jason MacLean, president of the Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union, says lack of action by the health authority put the nurse and her baby in jeopardy. (Jean Laroche/CBC)

The nurse had a panic alarm in her pocket, instead of on a belt, which is normally how it is carried. Maclean said it was not the alarm that warned staff the nurse was in trouble. 

"They heard yells and they heard screaming from herself and from patients, and other patients chipped in to help her out."

Masking tape on alarms

The union is concerned that the panic alarm did not immediately trigger a response and that it took longer than expected for an ambulance to arrive to take the nurse to hospital.

"There's tape on these units because they're old and they need to be replaced. And instead of replacing them, they do a makeshift fix on them by taping them to keep them together," Maclean said.

"It's an alarm device that has a part that you can pull out to sound the alarm, or you could press a button to sound the alarm, but none of that was working because it was taped, both parts were taped, and she had a hard time trying to put that through, which allowed the attack to continue on."

The union says it brought concerns to the health authority in February that the personal security alarms were not consistently in working order. (Submitted by NSGEU)

The union said it raised concerns about the panic alarms in a report to the health authority on Feb. 23. The report noted that the alarms are triggered by using a slide button, but the tape used to hold the alarms together prevented the slide button from being easily activated, the union said. 

"It was brought forward to the employer, and a representative of the employer said it wasn't worth their time to do a safety assessment on this, which I believe needs to be done right now," MacLean said.

Assessment deemed 'waste of time,' union says

MacLean said he has visited the nurse in hospital where she is recovering and her baby is being closely monitored.

"She is in much pain," he said. "Her baby now is safe. And what she wants to do is be able to focus on having her boy."

The union is calling on the health authority to conduct a violence-in-the-workplace assessment, as well as staff and equipment assessments in all provincial health-care facilities.

In an emailed response, the Nova Scotia Health Authority's CEO Janet Knox wrote: "This was a very serious incident and we regret that it occurred and that our employee was injured.

"An incident such as this requires immediate and thorough review and response and that work is underway.

"Nova Scotia Health Authority leadership is committed to working with those involved, our unions and others to identify and make process improvements or changes identified through a critical incident review."

Halifax Regional Police say they are investigating.