‘This should never have happened:’ BCNU president says attack on nurse was preventable

More safety precautions and officers needed to prevent violence against nurses, union head says

Hospitals need to do much more to protect their workers, the head of the BC Nurses Union said Wednesday in the wake of an attack on a nurse at Abbotsford Regional Hospital this week.

A patient used an exercise weight to strike a nurse in the face, breaking her jaw, fracturing her cheekbone and causing other serious injuries. BCNU president Christine Sorensen called the attack “tragic” and said the victim of the attack faces a long recovery and may never return to work as a nurse. The attack occurred in an inpatient medical unit at the hospital.

RELATED: Nurse suffers broken jaw in patient ‘ambush’ at Abbotsford hospital

Sorensen said the perpetrator of Tuesday’s attack had been assessed and found to have violent tendencies. The nurse treating him, meanwhile, was described as “extremely competent” and “dedicated.”

“This is an extremely tragic event [that] is preventable,” Sorensen said. “This should never have happened. This patient was a known risk for violence and the appropriate measures should have been put in place.”

Sorensen said government needs to ensure that hospitals have trained “safety officers” available to help with all potentially violent patients.

Sorensen said the perpetrator of Tuesday’s attack was restrained after striking the nurse, but she did not know how that took place, or who was tasked with restraining the man. Fraser Health said hospitals do provide security support for patients who are deemed to be potentially violent. That could include security personnel either outside a door, or in the room while treatment is delivered.

A Fraser Health spokesperson said a security officer was nearby when the attack occurred.

Sorensen, though, said that attack shows more needs to be done to protect nurses. She pointed to another serious attack in the ARH emergency room in 2015 that left a nurse reeling from facial wounds. That nurse never returned to work in Abbotsford. Sorensen said the danger of the job is one of several reasons the Abbotsford ER has been facing a shortage of trained nurses for years.

“I can only imagine the ripple effects through this facility when nurses are afraid to come to work.”

An internal risk assessment obtained by The News in 2017 showed that three-quarters of emergency room nurses had experienced a physical assault within a single calendar year. That report did not catalogue violence elsewhere in the hospital.

The man has since been returned to hospital for continued treatment, but is under guard by multiple people, Sorensen said.

The News has requested to speak to Health Minister Adrian Dix.

In a statement emailed to The News, Fraser Health CEO Victoria Lee said: “I am extremely concerned and saddened by this assault on one of our nurses. Our priority at the moment is to ensure she receives the appropriate care and support. I am also very concerned about the impact this has had on our staff and physicians. We are providing support and counselling, and we will continue to support them.

“Violence against any of our health care workers is unacceptable. As a clinician, I know that people come to work every day to help others, and are ready to care for the most sick and vulnerable members of our communities. We need to ensure as an organization we are caring for our health care providers.”

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