Southlake Regional Health Centre made its first court appearance today on the nine charges it is facing for allegedly failing to keep staff safe and meet its obligations under the Occupational Health and Safety Act following the attack of a nurse and security guard last year.
If convicted, the hospital faces fines up to $1.5 million for each of the charges, which allege seven counts or violations that relate to taking every precaution reasonable to protect a worker, and two counts of providing information, instruction and supervision to workers to protect their health or safety, a ministry spokesperson said.
The Jan. 17, 2019 incident resulted in York Regional Police charging a 21-year-old Toronto man with assault and assault causing bodily harm in the incident that occurred in the emergency department and adult inpatient mental health unit.
The registered nurse received critical head injuries, and the security guard was also injured.
"This employer has an abysmal record of complying with the law, and frontline registered nurses and health-care professionals have been subjected to workplace violence because of that," said Ontario Nurses' Association president Vicki McKenna.
The ONA said in a news release that it will be closely following the proceedings, beginning with today's appearance at the Provincial Offences Court at the Tannery Courts in Newmarket.
The matter was discussed before a justice of the peace today and will be heard by a provincial judge on March 20.
"Since 2013, incidents of violence have repeatedly occurred at Southlake. The act clearly lays out the responsibilities of employers, and Southlake has failed to comply," McKenna added.
The ONA said it has attempted to work with Southlake to put in place measures that would protect workers and their patients, many of which have not been implemented.
The hospital also failed to immediately report the attack to ONA, the Joint Health and Safety Committee and Ministry of Labour, and also did not secure the scene, as required by law, the ONA alleges.
None of the allegations has been proven in court.
Southlake spokesperson Matt Haggerty said in a previous statement to NewmarketToday that violent incidents at the hospital are rare and that immediate action was taken to provide additional security in the area where the attack occurred.
As well, a new mental health assessment unit will open later this year to provide "a safer place to assess and treat mental health patients" arriving in the emergency department.
The hospital has worked with frontline staff and the union to make changes to minimize the risk for staff, he said, such as a new tool to help identify potentially violent patients and training to help de-escalate potentially violent situations.
Southlake would not comment further on a matter before the courts, he said.
ONA is the union representing more than 68,000 registered nurses and health-care professionals, as well as more than 18,000 nursing student affiliates, providing care in hospitals, long-term care facilities, public health, the community, clinics and industry.
— With files from Kim Champion