A court hearing for the Ministry of Labour charges against Southlake Regional Health Centre and its CEO Arden Krystal has been adjourned for the fifth time.
The virtual court appearance at the Ontario Court of Justice in Newmarket was adjourned twice in 2021 and three times this month after originally being set for Nov. 24, 2021.
Both Southlake and Krystal were charged in October 2021 for violations of the workplace safety act in connection with several incidents that took place in October and December 2020.
Southlake faces five charges and Krystal one charge laid under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA).
In another incident, the Newmarket hospital pleaded guilty in 2020 to two of nine counts of violating the OHSA in 2020 stemming from a 2019 incident when a registered nurse and security guard were attacked in the emergency department and adult inpatient mental health unit. In a plea deal, the other seven charges were dropped.
By pleading guilty, "People were robbed of hearing the full story and hearing the process play out," said region 3 vice-president of the Ontario Nurses’ Association (ONA) DJ Sanderson.
This is the first time the hospital's CEO has been charged directly.
According to Sanderson, the charge against Krystal is a result of her not acting to ensure staff safety after having prior knowledge of a patient's violent behaviour.
Krystal, a nurse herself, had been participating in a "shadow shift", during which she personally accompanied nurses on their shifts, and witnessed a patient behaving aggressively, he said.
A day or two later, the patient attacked a nurse, Sanderson said.
According to Sanderson, Krystal sent several emails following the incident to inform ONA's bargaining unit president that she wasn't surprised by the incident as she had prior knowledge of the patient in question.
After their attempt to get Southlake to conduct a thorough investigation into the incident was unsuccessful, Sanderson said, the ONA was "left with no choice" but to inform the Ministry of Labour and to provide Krystal's emails.
"It's (the emails) that the Ministry of Labour honed in on to say, 'Well, wait a minute. You, as the most senior executive at Southlake, if you knew this patient was so violent, what did you do about it?'"
Sanderson, a Southlake emergency room nurse and former Southlake bargaining unit president, said the constant adjournments are frustrating, as is the fact that Southlake continues to put its employees at risk.
Being charged a second time in two years with nearly identical offences is "shameful," said Sanderson, and shows the $100,000 fine the hospital received in 2020 did nothing to compel the hospital to make adequate changes.
"What is it going to take? What is it going to take to get the message through, not just to Southlake but to so many employers, that violence is not part of our jobs? It's a disgusting fact the number of nurses that are impacted by violence on a daily basis?"
"We have taken significant action to address the safety of our Southlake staff by introducing a comprehensive violence prevention strategy developed in partnership with staff and our joint occupational health and safety committee," said Kathryn Perrier, Southlake manager of corporate communications, in a previous statement regarding the charges.
"The safety and security of our nurses, physicians and all staff at Southlake is our top priority….We are disappointed with this development, given our clear commitment and actions taken to improve the safety and security of all our staff," Perrier said in the email. "Our frontline staff are the heart of our hospital, and what happened was not OK."
While Sanderson acknowledges neither the hospital nor Krystal have been convicted of the latest set of charges, he doesn't see how Southlake can state that it's taking actions to ensure the safety of its staff and patients if incidents continue to occur.
"To plead guilty and pay that hefty fine so recently and then to be right back here again with further charges that just speaks to me volumes about there was no lesson learned. There are no greater steps taken to keep workers at Southlake safe and if the workers aren't safe, how in the world are the patients ever considered safe?"
Sandrson said ONA has had to routinely rely on the ministry to push Southlake to ensure the proper policies and processes are in place to keep workers safe and the amount of violence workers have had to endure weighs on them daily.
"These are just the ones that ended up in charges, the number of violence instances that happen on a monthly basis at Southlake... there's no way the general public has any concept."
If convicted, Krystal can be fined up to $100,000, and/or imprisonment for up to 12 months and Southlake could face fines up to $1.5 million per charge.
The hearing is now set for the beginning of March.