People have a right to feel safe at work. It’s becoming increasingly clear that the people that work in our hospitals in New Brunswick have very legitimate concerns about their safety every time they report for a shift.
It’s a dangerous situation that needs to be addressed immediately by government and our health authorities.
Recent media reports have shone a light on the issue. But it was also an issue that the Liberal opposition brought to the floor of the legislature before Christmas in the form of a motion urging the government to take action in the face of some alarming statistics.
As the Liberal motion pointed out, New Brunswick health authorities reported 1,600 violent incidents in the fiscal year 2018-19. That’s 4.5 violent incidents in New Brunwsick hospitals each and every day. That’s a far higher rate than we see in Nova Scotia.
WorksafeNB data shows workplace violence claims in hospitals and nursing homes more than triple those of employees in correctional facilities. Accepted mental health and PTSD claims among nurses make up nearly one-third of all mental health and PTSD claims in the province.
Horizon Health Board Chair John McGarry calls the situation “out of control.” As scary as that sounds it is not hyperbole. We completely agree with that assessment.
The Liberal motion also pointed out that as of early 2019, half the security guard positions in our hospitals were vacant. Horizon CEO Karen McGrath has pointed out that those security guards don’t have the powers necessary to properly protect hospital employees.
The legislature shut down for the year before we had the chance to debate our motion. But the facts and figures are right there in the motion on the order paper for government to see. If the government acts now to address these very serious concerns in a real way (not an online survey or further study but actual action) then there will be no need to debate this motion in the spring when the legislature resumes. We would be fine with that. We would applaud that.
As an opposition I think it’s important that we point to possible solutions and not just complain and point fingers of blame. People are tired of that approach and rightly so.
First of all, where in the system is the problem the greatest? While there are issues throughout the system there is data that indicates that the risk for violent incidents is higher in the emergency rooms of our larger hospitals and psychiatric wards. It sounds simple but where this is heightened risk we need increased security. And let’s not quibble about the cost of doing this. All things considered this would not be that expensive. Government should just tell the health authorities they will cover the small extra cost it would take to prevent a nurse from being assaulted.
Secondly, pay attention to what Ms. McGrath is saying about giving guards the powers to do their jobs properly. As it’s been described to me our guards in hospitals have far less authority and power to intervene than, say, peace officers in a courthouse. This is something cabinet could investigate and address in short order. It should at the very least be put near the top of the department’s priority list for cabinet action.
Also, let’s look at best practices. Are there hospitals in New Brunswick that do a better job of providing security than others? If so why? If we have an example in our own province where we are doing a good job in this area then it makes sense to adopt that model province-wide.
Recruitment and retention is perhaps a longer term issue but according to media reports some of the security guards in our hospitals are being paid little more than minimum wage for their work. While I’m not privy to the details of the contract to provide security in our hospitals it would be hard to guarantee a stable workforce with that sort of pay structure.
This raises the question of privatization of hospital services in general. When it comes to the well-being of those who care for our vulnerable citizens, the bottom line alone as a performance indicator is not good enough. Employee safety must be first among performance indicators.
These are all things that could be looked at immediately by government. While the Opposition Liberals have presented a motion on this issue we’d prefer immediate action to a legislative debate later this year. If violence against their employees isn’t at the top of this government’s priority list, it should be.
New Brunswick Liberal Party