Mental health centre fined $70,000 for safety violations

Nurses were assaulted by patients on two different occasions; court found security measures were lacking in each incident

A Toronto mental health facility was lax in its security measures that put staff in danger and led to two assaults on nurses by patients, the Ontario Court of Justice has ruled.

On Nov. 14, 2007, a nurse at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) in Toronto was working a night shift in the facility’s Secure Observation and Treatment Unit. In the middle of the night, a patient woke up and left his room to walk around the unit. The nurse tried to convince the patient to return to bed, but the patient refused. The nurse radioed for assistance and another nurse arrived to help. When the second nurse became involved, the patient punched her. The first nurse ran to the nursing station but the patient followed and punched the second nurse again as well as a third nurse.

Security personnel arrived at the unit but couldn’t get in because they didn’t have a key. Finally, a nurse was able to open the door while the patient was distracted and security was able to subdue the patient.

Another incident took place on Sept. 17, 2008, in CAMH’s Assessment and Treatment Unit. A patient who required constant supervision was being temporarily watched by a nurse when the patient started molesting the nurse. The nurse screamed when the patient began forcing her towards the washroom, but her screams went unheard. The patient got her as far as the washroom door but was surprised by another patient. The nurse took advantage of the distraction and was able to escape.

The court found there was a personal alarm system set up in the facility, but it was not in use in the Assessment and Treatment Unit. CAMH also had no written procedures for using the alarm system.

CAMH pled guilty to failing to ensure security personnel had key access to the Secure Observation and Treatment Unit in relation to the first incident and guilty to failing to provide written measures and procedures for the use of personal alarms in relation to the second incident. The court fined CAMH $35,000 for each violation, plus a 25-per-cent victim fine surcharge to go to a fund to assist victims of crime, as required by the Ontario Provincial Offences Act.

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