Nova Scotia

N.S. health authority ordered to do safety review after pregnant nurse attacked

The Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union says the nurse was punched and kicked in April 2018, two months after another nurse had requested a safety assessment at the East Coast Forensic Hospital in Dartmouth.

Nova Scotia Labour Board says an independent assessment at East Coast Forensic Hospital is 'urgently needed'

The East Coast Forensic Hospital in Burnside consists of a psychiatric intensive care unit and rehab units. Its patients come from the judicial system and it serves offenders diagnosed with mental illness. (Robert Short/CBC)

Nova Scotia's health authority has been ordered to conduct a "violence in the workplace" assessment in the wake of an attack by a patient on a pregnant nurse at the East Coast Forensic Hospital over a year ago.

The Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union released a written decision Tuesday from the Nova Scotia Labour Board that says an independent assessment is "urgently needed."

Union president Jason MacLean said all avenues had been exhausted in seeking change from the health authority prior to the labour board's June 13 ruling.

"We were getting lip service as opposed to getting actual action from the employer," MacLean said. "We wish that the employer had dedicated more time, money and effort into coming to solutions instead of into fighting it."

The labour board said the assessment must identify ways to protect health-care workers at the hospital in Dartmouth.

"In the board's view, this is a proper exercise of our discretion and we find that such an assessment is not only appropriate, but urgently needed," wrote chief administrator Diana Hartley.

The union said the incident involved a nurse who was 33-weeks pregnant when she was punched and kicked in April 2018 — two months after another nurse had requested a safety assessment.

At the time, the union said the victim was left vulnerable because her personal security alarm wasn't within reach and was held together with masking tape, which made it impossible to signal for help.

NSGEU president Jason MacLean says vacation, leave and no-discrimination clauses are key contract provisions that will help make it safe and enjoyable to work for the county. (Eric Woolliscroft/CBC)

Lyndsey Power was the nurse who submitted the original complaint.

"I did work that day when that [assault] took place and it was awful," said Power. "I feel this [ruling] is a huge victory for myself and everyone involved."

Power, a licensed practical nurse with seven years of experience, said while there have been subsequent improvements to the security alarm system, other changes are needed, including improved training.

"It is a very high-risk area to work," she said. "The patient population when the facility first opened was a lot of chronically mentally ill patients and now we are seeing more and more acute mentally ill patients."

Police eventually charged a woman with assault and uttering threats in connection with the attack.

Rachel Boehm is the director of mental health for the Nova Scotia Health Authority's central zone. (Shaina Luck/CBC)

Power said the nurse who was attacked had her baby and both are doing well, although the nurse no longer works for the health authority.

Rachel Boehm, director of mental health for the authority's central zone, said safe work practices have been instituted and a new training safety officer is now on-site.

As well, a new surveillance camera system has been installed and staff have been given new personal alarm systems.

She said she welcomes the external review.

"I think this is an opportunity to look at what we've done and to see if we have any gaps," said Boehm.

Regardless, she said improving safety will be an ongoing process at the hospital.

A 'notice to employers'

"It's one of the higher risk mental health and addictions facilities that we have. This will be an opportunity to bring in someone who is an expert in forensic hospital settings."

Meanwhile, MacLean said the labour board's decision reaches beyond directing the health authority to act.

"This is notice to employers across the province that you have to keep safety in mind," he said.