Kamloops nurse attacked twice at psychiatric centre

Help could not be summoned because the alarm system nurses use did not work

By Dale Bass

Kamloops This Week

On the day a doctor was beaten by a patient in a psychiatric unit in Penticton, a nurse at Hillside Centre in Kamloops was also assaulted.

Two days later, the same nurse was attacked again while on duty at the psychiatric centre adjacent to Royal Inland Hospital — and help could not be summoned because the alarm system nurses use did not work, according to a representative of the B.C. Nurses’  Union (BCNU).

Tracey Quewezance, the Thompson-North Okanagan BCNU representative, said the nurse is now at home resting and dealing with pain and bruises. She said the second attack saw a patient grab the nurse by her head, punch her, pull hair out and throw her into a wall.

Quewezance said the nurse did not report the Friday, Dec. 5 incident, which involved a patient with dementia, because she felt the injuries weren’t worth documenting.

That was the same day a doctor at Penticton Regional Hospital was attacked and left unconscious in his office by a patient who walked out and told staff there he thought he had killed the physician.

Police arrested 30-year-old patient Gregory Nield of Summerland. He has been charged with assault causing bodily harm and aggravated assault. He is in custody pending a psychiatric assessment.

Quewezance said at least weekly — and, often, daily — a nurse in her region is attacked while on duty.

Staff at Hillside have waited almost three years for a reliable personal-alarm system, she said. WorkSafe BC told the Interior Health Authority (IHA) in 2012 the system had to be replaced, repeating the order in September 2013.

A new system was being installed, Quewezance said, but there were problems with parts and it has again been delayed.

In 2013, 31 “incidences” were reported at Hillside Centre, ranging from minor brushes with patients to serious interactions blamed on a lack of staff.

Quewezance said staffing remains an issue. In fact, after the Sunday assault, the nurse did not want to go to the ER and leave her pod at Hillside Centre understaffed. Co-workers prevailed, pointing out her injuries and the need for medical attention.

Quewezance said the IHA continues to decrease the number of staff in the pods at the centre depending on the number of patients, not taking into account the specific mental-health issues of each patient.

The BCNU and the Union of Psychiatric Nurses has in the past called on the Interior Health Authority to do more to ensure each area in the psychiatric centre is adequately staffed and enough measures are in place to ensure the safety of employees and patients.

That call was repeated on Tuesday, Dec. 9, by BCNU president Gayle Duteil, who said “nurses are assaulted almost daily in hospitals across B.C.

“In many cases, the assaults could be prevented with better staffing levels, on-site security personnel and alarm systems that work,” she said.

“Nurses are attacked everywhere, pretty much every day, somewhere in the province and they are starting to accept the abnormal as normal,” Quewezance said.

She is encouraging nurses to report all incidents, including near-misses, because the cumulative effect of working in an environment where safety is a daily concern takes its toll.

“And, then, it might just take a little thing, but the cumulative effect is the nurse finally snaps and, a lot of times, their career is over,” Quewezance said.

While concerned for the welfare of a Kamloops nurse attacked at Hillside Centre — and her colleagues around the province — Health Minister Terry Lake said the number of incidences involving dangerous behaviour by a patient has decreased.

With B.C. hospitals providing more than 30-million services each year, Lake said, the percentage of Code Whites — situations that have the potential to escalate beyond the ability of medical staff to control — have been decreasing.

Provincially, the number has decreased to 3,749 last year from 4,307 in 2011; Interior Health Authority (IHA) figures show the numbers dropping to 933 in 2013 from 1,114 in 2011.

Lake said it’s “always concerning when someone is injured at work,” but noted the B.C. Liberal government has put $37 million into training medical staff to acquire ”the tools they need to manage situations like that.”

When the Hillside incident occurred on Sunday, Dec. 7, one of the nurses on duty hit the personal-alarm button to create a Code White, but the equipment failed. The alarm system has been an issue at Hillside as staff there have waited almost three years for a new system to be put into place.

Lake deferred to comments about the system made by Dr. Paul Dagg, the IHA’s medical director of tertiary mental-health services, who said the system is being installed and will go online once it is tested.

Lake noted the B.C. Nurses’ Union has called for security guards to be present in every psychiatric unit in B.C..

But, Lake agrees with Dagg’s assessment such a move could create also cause situations to escalate.

“Dr. Dagg said he would take a trained nurse over a security guard and I think that makes some sense,” Lake said. “We’ve all seen One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and we don’t want to go back to those days,” Lake said.

The Ken Kesey novel addressed characters in a mental-health facility and the way the medical staff used electroshock therapy, over-medication and rigid mechanical precision to deal with the patients.

“This is an ongoing challenge in health care,” Lake said. “Some jobs are riskier than others, but we are doing everything we can to give them the tools they need — and we learn from every event.”