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Labour ministry investigating after nurse, security guard assaulted at Southlake

The incident is one of a growing number of reports of workplace violence against nurses and other health care workers in the province that the Ontario Nurses’ Association says should not be part of their job
USED2018-09-01 Southlake landscape view KC
Southlake Regional Health Centre/NewmarketToday

A Ministry of Labour investigation is underway after a nurse and security guard were violently assaulted the afternoon of Jan. 17 at Newmarket’s Southlake Regional Health Centre.

This latest incident is one of a growing number of reports involving workplace violence against registered nurses and other health care workers that the Ontario Nurses’ Association says should not be part of the job.

The Labour Ministry was notified of the Southlake incidences the day they occurred on Jan. 17.

“It was reported that two workers were assaulted by a patient,” ministry spokesperson Tristan Austin said. “A ministry inspector attended the workplace and issued one requirement to Southlake Regional Health Centre to provide documentation. One order was issued to Southlake Regional Health Centre, to take every precaution reasonable to protect a worker (complied with). However, this order is unrelated to the incident.

“Ministry inspectors returned to the workplace to continue their investigation on Jan. 21, 2019. One order and one requirement were issued to Southlake to assess the risks of workplace violence that may arise from the nature of the workplace and to provide documentation. The ministry’s investigation is ongoing,” said Austin.

Violence is a huge problem in health care, said Ontario Nurses’ Association board president Vicki McKenna.

“The Ministry of Labour is involved up there (at Southlake), our leaders are involved as well, and our nurses up there are worried because incidents like this, it could be one of their peers or themselves. The nurses are there for their patients and the families and they need to know they’re in a safe workplace.

"And that’s the key to all of this, that it is safe for everybody.”

The nurses’ union represents more than 500 bargaining units across Ontario, with more than 60,000 members who are registered nurses and health professionals working in hospitals, long-term care facilities, public health and community agencies.

Its campaign to end workplace violence has reached into the frontlines of health care by soliciting and telling the personal stories of its members who report being kicked, punched in the face, bitten and spat on while administering treatment, care and medication to patients, among other things.

But there are certain risks that can be identified and addressed, which isn’t happening in health care everywhere and it needs to be, McKenna said, adding that Southlake has been addressing workplace violence for some time now and she knows that its leaders are frustrated because they, too, are concerned about their nurses' safety.

“The best work being done is around violence prevention and risk assessment of the workplace, and where the risk is identified,” McKenna said, adding the union is now working with the health and labour ministries to develop a joint violence prevention strategy. “If you have certain areas, units, or clinics that may be higher risk than others because of overcrowding or lack of staffing, we have to think about how we make it safe for everybody — that includes patients and staff.”

Southlake Regional Health Centre corporate communications manager Kathryn Perrier said in an email to NewmarketToday that the assault that occurred last Thursday on two staff members by a patient “became violent very quickly”.

“Our thoughts and support are with them,” Perrier said. “Staff and security responded to help within seconds, the injured staff were assessed right away and the police were called at the same time.”

The extent of the injuries sustained by the nurse and security guard was not known at the time of the call, she added.

“We have launched a full investigation and the patient has been charged with assault,” Perrier said.

“At Southlake, safety is a top priority. We have done a tremendous amount of work in collaboration with our unions over the past few years to make sure our staff and patients are as safe as possible.

“Despite that, it is very difficult to avoid all incidents. Any time something like this happens, we always look for ways to make improvements. We have been very open about the capacity issues we face each day, particularly in our Emergency Department (ED) and on our Adult Inpatient Mental Health Unit.”

Southlake’s emergency department is one of the busiest in the province. It was built to care for 70,000 patients per year and last year it served more than 113,000 patients.  

“When patient areas are overcrowded, the potential for conflict and violence increases,” said Perrier, adding a recently announced 12-bed redevelopment will add capacity to the adult inpatient mental health program.  

“These 12 beds will significantly improve the flow of mental health patients through our emergency department and they will be admitted faster to the best place to receive care. We are working with the Ministry of Health to move this project forward as quickly as possible.”

The Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions, of which the Ontario Nurses’ Association belongs, launched a national petition in October 2018 calling on the federal Health Minister to help end workplace violence. It has so far garnered 6,480 signatures from across the country.  

The petition to the Health Minister states:


National data shows that the number of violence-related accepted lost-time injuries for frontline health care workers increased by close to 66 per cent between 2006 and 2015;

  • National data shows that 61 per cent of nurses experienced a “serious” problem with some form of violence over a recent 12 month period;
  • Recent survey data in Ontario found that up to 68 per cent of nurses and personal support workers experienced violence on the job in 2016-2017;
  • Violence in our health care system undermines the quality of care received by patients and affects all Canadians; and
  • Health care workers are employed to provide care for patients, not to be subjected to violence;

We, the undersigned, Citizens and residents of Canada, call upon the Minister of Health to develop a pan-Canadian prevention strategy to address growing incidents of violence against health care workers, and that this strategy draw upon international and domestic best practices to ensure all health care settings across the country are safe.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story included incorrect information provided by the Ministry of Labour about the date it was notified about the Southlake Regional Health Centre assaults. Southlake management reported the incident to the Labour Ministry on the day it occurred, Jan. 17, 2019. The story has been edited to correct the error.


Kim Champion

About the Author: Kim Champion

Kim Champion is a veteran journalist and editor who covers Newmarket and issues that impact York Region.
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