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Ontario Nurses' Association calls for action following violent Elliot Lake hospital incident

Incident demonstrates 'how unprepared this and many employers are for workplace violence,' says association president
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After an angry patient went on a rampage through the emergency department of St. Joseph's General Hospital in Elliot Lake on Oct. 16, the Ontario Nurses Association is raising the alarm about the level of workplace violence health-care workers in Ontario face.

The incident last Friday saw the agitated patient tear through the hospital's ED, smashing equipment and damaging property while frightened staff and patients tried to stay out of his way. Staff called a Code White (indicating violence) and officers from East Algoma OPP responded to deal with the situation.

The hospital emergency department reopened later in the day, but ambulances and walk-in patients were referred to Blind River while staff cleaned up debris.

Hospital CEO Pierre Ozolins told ElliotLakeToday.com that he was thankful there were no injuries during the incident.

Unfortunately, said Ontario Nurses' Association (ONA) president Vicki McKenna, workplace violence in health care is all too common, and she is calling for immediate action to keep health-care workers and patients safe from violence.

"A serious incident in the emergency room of St. Joseph's General Hospital has again demonstrated just how unprepared this and many employers are for workplace violence," McKenna stated in a news release this week.

"It is unacceptable that a patient was able to do extensive damage in the hospital while registered nurses and health-care professionals – and their patients – were unprotected.

"From what we understand, the issues that are being investigated include whether there were any security personnel on site, whether the Code White called by registered nurses and staff could be heard by everyone, and how sufficiently trained staff were on the proper use of panic buttons."

The ONA said workplace violence in health care is an ongoing and very serious concern.

"The pandemic has raised the level of stress and tension for health-care staff and patients alike," said McKenna.

"The last thing our skilled and dedicated front-line nurses and health-care professionals need to worry about is violence."

McKenna contends when it is police who deliver a patient to an emergency department, too often there is a lack of security, staff, training and policies and procedures for unpredictable patients. This serves to put staff and their patients at risk. McKenna says there must be government action to ensure this does not continue.

ONA is the union representing more than 68,000 registered nurses and health-care professionals, as well as 18,000 nursing student affiliates, providing care in hospitals, long-term care facilities, public health, the community, clinics and industry.




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