Coquitlam’s Forensic Psychiatric Hospital hit with huge fine for failing to provide workplace safety

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The assaulted nurses remain physically and mentally traumatized and violent attacks on members and staff still occur at the hospital.

Vancouver Sun | Glenda Luymes | January 31, 2019

Aerial view of the Forensic Psychiatric Hospital in Coquitlam, B.C.

Aerial view of the Forensic Psychiatric Hospital in Coquitlam, B.C.
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B.C. taxpayers are on the hook for a $646,305 fine levied against the Forensic Psychiatric Hospital by WorkSafeBC for failing to ensure the safety of five health care workers who were injured in two separate violent attacks at the Coquitlam hospital last spring.

The fine, the largest WorkSafeBC penalty to date, comes after investigations in March and May of 2018, according to WorkSafeBC incident reports obtained by Postmedia through a freedom-of-information request.

In the first incident, a patient with a history of violence who had recently been in a jail, was admitted to a unit for “geriatric and medically frail” patients against hospital protocol and the concerns of staff. He injured three workers before being restrained, said the WorkSafeBC report.

Just over a month later, another patient injured two workers when he “lunged” at a doctor who was asking him questions.

The head of the B.C. Nurses’ Union said nurses at the hospital, which treats mentally ill patients who have been declared unfit to stand trial or not criminally responsible, felt “validated” by the fine, which was announced Thursday.

“Many of the staff working there have been assaulted,” said Christine Sorensen. “They have peers who have been assaulted and haven’t come back to work. There’s a pretty high level of fear.”

The BCNU president said the union’s concerns about staff safety have gone unanswered for years. In the months following the two attacks, there were two more violent incidents.

In September, the Provincial Health Services Authority, which oversees the hospital, announced the results of an external review and promised to hire more staff and make improvements to security and training.

An authority spokesperson was not available for an interview Thursday. In a statement, Lynn Pelletier, the vice-president for B.C. Mental Health, said the hospital is “a different place than it was last spring.” She pointed to recent improvements, including the recruitment of new security and clinical staff, improved training, facility upgrades and a new leadership team.

“Aggressive incidents have decreased significantly,” she said.

But Sorensen said that while the health authority has made some changes, they are happening too slowly.

“We’re still not sure if they will actually create a safer working environment,” she said.

POLICIES WEREN’T FOLLOWED

The WorkSafeBC incident reports obtained by Postmedia show the hospital had policies in place to protect staff last spring, but they weren’t always followed.

In the first incident, which took place in March, a “remand patient” — defined in the report as a person who is supposed to be held in custody for a psychiatric assessment or to await the outcome of their trial or transfer to a treatment unit — was admitted to a unit for geriatric patients. The geriatric unit does not normally take remand patients, who are considered high risk and normally housed in a maximum-security unit.

The WorkSafeBC report noted “this was the first time a remand patient was admitted directly into (the geriatric unit). There was no evidence that the … workers’ concerns for their safety had been addressed.”

A short time later, the patient attacked a health care worker and “attempted to _______ the worker,” according to the report, which was heavily redacted. Another direct care nurse intervened and the patient “attempted to ______ the direct care nurse.”

A security team responded after a “personal panic alarm system” was activated, but “while trying to restrain the patient, a third worker received multiple injuries.”

In the second incident, which happened just 34 days later according to the BCNU, a doctor met with a patient in a seclusion room to give him a “face-to-face” update on his care. A hastily assembled “seclusion team” joined the doctor.

According to the incident report, the patient was sitting on his bed as the doctor knelt down to talk to him. When the doctor repeated the same question twice, the patient “lunged at the doctor.” Two health care workers were injured as they tried to contain the patient.

The investigator found that while the patient’s history was documented, some triggers were not noted or told to the workers before entry. The workers also said the entry was rushed.

“The written procedures provided by the employer identify certain steps that are required, yet based on the statements obtained after the incident these steps were missed,” said the report.

In a statement Thursday, WorkSafeBC said the employer “failed to ensure the safety of workers through adequate risk assessments, policies and procedures, and training to prevent incidents of violence to workers.” The issues leading to the massive fine were “repeat violations,” as the hospital had been fined for similar violations within the last three years.

HOSPITAL FINED BEFORE

In 2016, the hospital was fined $15,000 for failing to train supervisors and workers, although the fine was altered upon appeal. In 2014, the hospital was fined $75,000 for failing to assess and control the risk of violence in the workplace. In 2012, a patient stabbed a health care worker.

Sorensen said the nurses’ union could ask WorkSafeBC to invest the latest fine into safety at the hospital.

“Our concern is that taxpayer money for health care should not be spent on paying fines,” she said.

The Forensic Psychiatric Hospital houses 190 patients, including Allan Schoenborn, who was convicted of killing his 10-year-old daughter and two sons, aged eight and five, in April 2008. Gabriel Klein, who is charged with second-degree murder and aggravated assault in relation to an attack at Abbotsford Secondary School in November 2016, also received treatment at the hospital.