'It's getting overwhelming': St. Paul's Hospital worker speaks out after violent incidents
VANCOUVER -- A St. Paul’s Hospital social worker is speaking out about what he calls an unsafe working environment after he says he reported a variety of disturbing incidents to hospital management and WorkSafeBC, but says not enough was done.
Workers are bearing the brunt of a surge of sometimes violent incidents in the hospital, with the risk brought sharply in focus by the death of an overdose prevention site worker last month, Jason Amyot told CTV News.
“I went to the employer and WorkSafe many times,” Amyot said. “I exhausted all avenues for change. But the violence is increasing in the emergency department. It’s getting overwhelming.”
Amyot says over the past few months he’s reported incidents where a patient was threatened with a blade, a man found with a bleeding gash in his forehead, and social workers threatened by intoxicated people.
But what has really shaken him was an attack in January by a patient on a fellow social worker in a small office he shares, with no barrier between the staff and a volatile patient population. That worker quit after the hospital didn’t change the setup of the room, he said.
“I expressed my concerns to WorkSafe BC about the violence in the emergency department, specific concerns about the overdose prevention site, the danger to staff that I felt was there in February, and there was no investigation,” Amyot said.
St. Paul’s Hospital statistics show a sudden rise in what the hospital calls "reportable incidents." There were 70 per year in four previous years. By July 1 of 2020, the hospital had already recorded 58, putting it on track to be over 100 this year.
Vancouver police figures show calls for service in the 1,000-block of Comox Street have tripled, from 12 in the first six months of 2019, to 37 in the same period of 2020.
Observers blame a combination of a rise in homelessness, disruptions in the street drug supply thanks to border closures, and the global pandemic.
The overdose prevention site on the property remains closed, four weeks after worker Thomus Donaghy was stabbed to death in what police say was a fistfight that turned deadly.
Authorities charged Maximus Roland Hayes, a 23-year-old from Victoria who was known as ‘Wiz’ on the streets of the Downtown Eastside. Court records show he faced a charge of assault in Victoria in 2018, and then eight breaches of his conditions over more than a year, including possessing drug paraphernalia.
Hayes’ lawyer, reached by CTV News, declined to comment. Raincity Housing, which operates the site, said that security is provided by St. Paul’s Hospital through a contract with Paladin Security.
WorkSafeBC statistics show health care and social services account for 55 per cent of all injury claims in B.C. due to acts of violence or force.
Providence Health Authority, which runs St. Paul’s Hospital, told CTV News in a statement it acknowledges that there is a risk faced by staff in health care positions, and that it tries to reduce the risk through risk assessments and violence prevention education.
The programs include online training, classroom training, and bolstering the staff of a violence prevention team from two to three advisors – but some have been suspended during the pandemic which has stretched health-care resources, the statement said.
“When staff have specific safety concerns, robust and detailed discussions take place together with staff to try and address the situation with solutions that work for all. In clinical areas of the hospital, multiple people work in the same space and we aim to address everyone’s concerns. Our first line of on-site safety in areas of particular concern includes panic buttons and personal panic alarm devices for each health-care worker,” the statement said.
In the case of the assault of the social worker, WorkSafeBC told CTV News that it received a claim.
“WorkSafeBC was informed by the employer that all the incidents raised by the worker had been investigated. WorkSafeBC was also informed that a code white team (violence prevention) was in place and that training was provided,” the agency said in a statement.
But other social workers told CTV News the room where the assault happened remains open to access by the public, and little has changed.
Amyot says it’s time that the provincial government addressed the concerns through providing funding that could improve security.
“The government needs to step in. They need to figure out how they can support medical staff,” he said.