P.E.I. focuses on prevention

Concerns raised following assault

A string of assaults on nursing staff at a psychiatric hospital in Charlottetown, P.E.I., has one union raising concerns over health and safety at the facility.

A 21-year-old woman and patient at Hillsborough Hospital is serving jail time after assaulting a worker in July. It is the second jail sentence she has received for assaulting employees at the hospital, and just another in a slew of assaults on the staff members — including one incident where she punched and bit the leg of an employee.

Staff are continually put in harm’s way, according to the Union of Public Sector Employees (UPSE). For example, before one altercation, the same patient had been taken out in public for the day, to go shopping, alongside five staff members.

That the so many staffers were assigned to the one patient is indicative management is aware she posed some sort of threat or risk, said Debbie Boyver, president of P.E.I.’s. UPSE. "Management knows there’s an issue there but they continually put my members in danger by setting them up in situations like that."

After meeting with the hospital’s human resources department and director of nursing, the union said it was unsatisfied with the lack of response, and it filed a claim at the provincial workers’ compensation board.

Concerns from staff at Hillsborough go beyond this one patient, and UPSE is looking for long-term solutions that will take into account the worker’s safety.

For instance, when an employee is required to use force to restrain a patient, it can be walking a fine line — if a staffer holds on too tight, the patient’s safety becomes a liability, but loosen the grip and an unpredictable patient can become a personal threat.

"Only the person holding onto that patient can determine how tight they need them to hang on," said Boyver, adding any new policies would benefit all parties involved.

"Our members need to be protected, but we are not by any means saying the public and the patients don’t need the same amount of attention," she said.

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