The Ministry of Labour has charged Southlake Regional Health Centre and its CEO with violations of the workplace safety act.
The Newmarket hospital faces five charges and Arden Krystal one charge laid under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) in connection with several incidents that took place in 2020.
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 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," said Kathryn Perrier, Southlake manager of corporate communications, in an email.
"Our frontline staff are the heart of our hospital, and what happened was not okay. In all three incidents, staff were caring for patients who had responsive behaviours," she said.
While Southlake did not provide additional details regarding the incidents, responsive behaviour is a term commonly used in health care to refer to actions, words or gestures made by persons with dementia in response to something negative, frustrating or confusing in their social and physical environment, according to the Alzheimer Society of Canada.
Southlake has been charged with numerous counts of "failing to take every precaution reasonable in the circumstances for the protection of a worker contrary to section 25(2)(h) of the Occupational Health and Safety Act," according to the sworn court documents obtained by NewmarketToday.
On Oct. 22, 2020, Southlake "failed to take the reasonable precaution of placing a patient, with a history of violent behaviour toward staff, in the Emergent Mental Health Assessment Unit or other adequate placement," and "failed to take the reasonable precaution of ensuring that one or more staff assist pendants were properly used and/or maintained. "
The pendant is a device worn by staff that triggers a "code white" — a violent patient incident. It was implemented by Southlake after a 2013 incident of workplace violence in its emergency department.
Also on Oct. 22, Southlake "failed to take the reasonable precaution of ensuring that adequate flagging or visible safety indicators were in place to alert workers to the hazard of workplace violence posed by a patient."
On Dec. 30, 2020, Southlake again "failed to take the reasonable precaution of ensuring that one or more staff assist pendants were properly used and/or maintained," and again "failed to take the reasonable precaution of ensuring that adequate flagging or visible safety indicators were in place to alert workers to the hazard of workplace violence posed by a patient."
Krystal has been charged with "failing, as a director and officer, to take all reasonable care to ensure that Southlake Regional Health Centre complied with Section 25(2)(h) of the Occupational Health and Safety Act, contrary to section 32(a) of the Occupational Health and Safety Act," according to the documents.
"The defendant failed to take all reasonable care in ensuring that Southlake Regional Health Centre placed a patient, with a history of violent behaviour toward staff, in the Emergent Mental Health Assessment Unit or other adequate placement."
The charges come one year — almost to the day — after the hospital pleaded guilty and was convicted on nine counts of violating the OHSA when a registered nurse and security guard were attacked in the emergency department and adult inpatient mental health unit in 2019.
After pleading guilty the hospital was fined $80,000 in provincial offences and a 25 per-cent victim fine surcharge.
A request made by NewmarketToday to speak directly with Health Minister Christine Elliott about the second set of charges against the hospital in her riding was denied.
"As this matter is before the courts it would be inappropriate to comment," said Bill Campbell, media relations, communications division, Ontario Ministry of Health.
On Oct. 15, Southlake notified its staff about the charges in an email that also outlined the hospital's violence prevention strategy.
"We are writing to let you know that earlier this week Southlake was notified of charges from the Ministry of Labour against the hospital and our President and CEO Arden Krystal related to three incidents that took place in 2020….Thanks to everyone’s hard work and collaboration, over the last three years the number of incidents has continued to trend downwards. While this is a positive development, one incident is too many and we are committed to continue with these important initiatives," the letter said.
The first court appearance is set for Nov. 24, at the Ontario Court of Justice in Newmarket.
Editor's Note: This article has been updated to include details of the charges outlined in court documents.