The B.C. hospital that houses people deemed unfit to stand trial or not criminally responsible because of mental illness has been fined $75,000 by the province’s worker-safety authority for three incidents, including one in 2012 in which an occupational therapist was stabbed in the chest by a patient engaged in “therapeutic cooking activity.”
In a Dec. 2 inspection report, WorkSafeBC said it imposed the penalty because the hospital failed to take sufficient precautions to prevent work-related injuries, has not complied with some sections of workplace legislation, has not maintained a safe workplace and did not exercise due diligence to prevent the incidents.
The fine is the first such penalty in more than a dozen years for the site, said Johann Brink, the clinical director of psychiatry at the 190-bed facility.
The penalty does not take into account changes made since the incidents, Dr. Brink maintains. They include a hospital-wide risk evaluation, improved risk assessments of patients and changes to the way patients are allowed access to programs and tools, including “edged instruments,” he said.
“We reviewed and revised our protocols and practices for patients’ access to programs, supervision on the grounds, we made changes to the physical environment and we improved the way we assess violence,” Dr. Brink said. “And we have done a tremendous amount of work improving our training for our staff in risk assessment and violence risk management.”
The B.C. Government and Service Employees’ Union and the B.C. Nurses’ Union have both raised concerns about worker safety at the Coquitlam facility.
“What this [fine] says to us is that the hospital is not taking the concerns of the workers seriously,” BCGEU president Stephanie Smith said on Thursday.
“It shouldn’t take a $75,000 fine to get the hospital to do what we have been raising as a serious issue for over three years.”
The penalty relates to three incidents, including the one in September, 2012, in which the report says “an occupational therapist was conducting a one-to-one therapeutic cooking activity with a psychiatric patient at the worksite. During the activity, the patient stabbed the worker through the right side of the chest wall, resulting in the worker sustaining serious injuries.”
The worker has recovered, Dr. Brink said.
Other incidents in the report include a worker who was assaulted while drawing blood from a patient on one of the hospital’s maximum security wards, and the hospital’s failure to provide staff with specific instructions about how to care for a “potentially aggressive” patient in a room not designated for that purpose.
WorkSafeBC says it has issued three penalties and three warning letters this year in the health-care sector in relation to violence regulations. Violence against workers is most prevalent in long-term care facilities, the agency says.
Earlier this year, Vancouver Coastal Health was fined $75,000 after a patient on a psychiatric unit attacked a recreational therapist and trapped her in a laundry room.
In an e-mail on Thursday, spokeswoman Anna Marie D’Angelo said Vancouver Coastal Health has spent about $2-million since that incident on “violence education upgrades” for staff working in high-risk environments.
More than 4,000 staff, including 90 per cent of those who work in high-risk areas such as mental health, addiction and emergency departments, have had mandatory violence-prevention education. Those who have not are newly hired or on leave.