A new Interior Health program intended to reduce violence and aggression toward emergency department staff won’t be coming to the Penticton Regional Hospital anytime soon.
The ambassador program will place full-time security staff in the emergency departments at Royal Inland, Vernon Jubilee and Kelowna General hospitals. The intention is to keep a presence in the emergency departments that would eventually become familiar to regular patients.
Modelled after a Lower Mainland program, IH’s manager of protection, parking and fleet services Andrew Pattison said the goal is to to “have a security resource dedicated to the emergency departments that’s trained to be proactive in their approach to engaging our customers that come to the ED.”
By having security stationed in emergency for their entire shift, Pattison said the hope is that security staff will get to know those who regularly require emergency health care and what, if anything, might instigate them into violence.
Figures provided by Pattison indicate Penticton saw 22 incidents of aggression or violence reported to Occupational Health and Safety at WorkSafeBC. That compares to 66 incidents in KGH last year, 55 in Vernon Jubilee and 29 in Kamloops’s Royal Inland.
While Penticton appears far lower than the other major hospitals in the region, it’s not much lower when weighed by the number of emergency visits, with PRH taking in around 35,000 per fiscal year.
Per 10,000 emergency department visits, Penticton saw around six incidents of violence or aggression in the entire hospital in 2016. That compared to 4.23 incidents at RIH at the low end and 12.5 in Vernon at the high end.
While Penticton saw lower numbers in 2016, it saw a higher rate of incidents than the other three hospitals, with 11.9 incidents per 10,000 ED visits. The next highest that year was Vernon at 9.37, while Kelowna and Kamloops hovered around 5.6 incidents.
In fact, in 2015, Penticton had more incidents than any of those four hospitals in general, with 42 incidents. Kelowna had 41 incidents, while RIH and VJH had 35 and 38 respectively.
Generally speaking, two-thirds of all incidents of patient aggression in hospitals occur in the emergency department, according to Pattison, however, it’s not clear how closely that figure represents each of the hospitals individually.
B.C. Nurse’s Union’s Okanagan-Similkameen chair Rhonda Croft said the numbers provided by Interior Health don’t tell the whole story, because often staff either don’t report or don’t properly report all incidents.
“We know that it’s increasing, and it’s become quite scary in a lot of cases.
“Sometimes they’re discouraged from reporting, some of them don’t know that they should call that number (to WorkSafeBC).”
Still, the BCNU representative said the move is a welcome one for nurses, who are often the first to respond to a violent situation.
“We don’t want the nurses to have to be the folks taking patients down. That’s not their role; it’s dangerous,” Croft said, noting that often the response to aggressive situations comes from the code white team — staff trained to intervene in escalating situations.
Croft said there are other avenues Interior Health should be looking at to curtail violence or aggression in the workplace, that includes courses on violence prevention.
“It’s something that we’re talking about with the employer at the bargaining table, and in fact in our collective agreement, the employer has indicated that they want all workplaces to be safe.”
That would be a welcome change for nurses, as Croft said violence in the workplace is normalized for nurses and hospital staff.
“For a long time, people have felt, ‘Oh, that just goes along with the job,’” she said.
“When you talk to people that work in a grocery store … if someone spit on you or swore or threatened you, it wouldn’t be tolerated. And yet, somehow in the hospital, these kinds of things happen to nurses every day, and it just becomes kind of accepted that it’s part of the job. And we’re trying to say that it’s not part of the job.”
With that in mind, Pattison saidthe program will be reviewed next July, and, if deemed successful, the program will likely be expanded beyond the three test locations, with Penticton a candidate to be among the next hospitals.