Posted By optimum-user
Hospital officials are restoring overnight security in the emergency room of the Montreal General until further notice after a nurse was nearly strangled by a psychiatric patient early Saturday morning.
As part of budget cuts almost a year ago, the Montreal General eliminated the night shift of a security guard in the busy downtown ER. In the immediate aftermath of Saturday’s assault, hospital officials informed the ER that security would be tightened until at least Tuesday — a measure that anxious staff feared might be only temporary.
After the Montreal Gazette broke the story on Sunday night — reporting the concerns of a veteran employee, resulting in an outcry on social media — officials announced that overnight ER security would be extended indefinitely.
Meanwhile, the psychiatric patient who is alleged to have thrown the nurse to the floor and choked her with his bare hands is expected to be arraigned in Quebec Superior Court on Tuesday. Crown prosecutors have not yet decided on the exact criminal charges that will be laid — whether they might include assault causing bodily harm or a more serious charge, said Constable Raphaël Bergeron, a spokesperson for the Montreal Police Department.
In a statement issued late Sunday night, the director of public affairs at the McGill University Health Centre — which is in charge of the Montreal General — indicated that security would be tightened, but did not specify for how long.
“The violent act was caused by the patient’s condition and cannot simply be associated with budget measures,” Richard Fahey said in an email to the Gazette.
“We are providing the necessary support to the affected nurse and have increased security in the ward for the attending staff.”
Pressed on Monday on whether the MUHC would consider reinstating 24-hour ER protection, Fahey replied that security would be beefed up “until further notice.”
“We want first to commend our staff at the MGH psychiatric ER for their devotion and courage in treating some 2,200 mental-health patients per year,” he added.
“Unfortunately, the team experienced an act of rare violence against one of our MGH nurses in the early hours of Saturday morning (3:45 a.m). The appropriate security protocol was launched and the necessary personnel intervened to neutralize the psychotic patient.”
Fahey’s assertion on the rarity of the violence was challenged by the veteran employee, who said that assaults in the ER have increased amid budget cuts, coupled with the fact that staff started treating emergency psychiatric patients in 2015.
“There’s been an enormous amount of violence since last year,” the employee said, noting that another patient tried to strangle an ER nurse with a telephone cord months ago.
Manuel Fernandes, vice-president for health and safety for the MUHC CSN Employees’ Union, said he sent an urgent letter to Fahey on June 18 complaining about a lack of nighttime security.
On June 30, union leaders met with Fahey, who is also responsible for human resources, and two other MUHC officials. The union representatives were told that the “security level for the MGH night shift was sufficient,” according to their minutes of the meeting reviewed by the Gazette.
“There’s a huge security issue at the Montreal General,” Fernandes said in an interview. “One of our patient attendants has had his teeth knocked out. We’ve had laptops stolen from the hospital at night. And now this happened: a nurse almost died.”
Fahey confirmed that “various concerns” were raised at the June meeting.
“The matter was reviewed by the head of (the) security department and the coverage was deemed sufficient,” he said. But following Saturday’s assault, “these matters will all be reviewed in the debriefing to take place this week.”
Pierre Hurteau, a spokesperson for the MUHC Central Users’ Committee, drew a link between safety concerns and Health Minister Gaétan Barrette’s decision last year to fund the hospital network at a bed-occupancy rate of 85 per cent.
“Though we do not know all the details concerning the patient’s motivations, security issues should be raised after this second instance of violence at the MGH,” Hurteau said in a statement.
“Not only staff but patients need to be more protected, especially in a psychiatric ward. The absence of security and reduction of staff are not helping. Does financing at a level of 85 per cent translate into 15 per cent of security hazards? Not acceptable.”