Nurses raise alarm about faulty paging system at ERH

Christine Sorensen, vice-president with the BC Nurses Union says more should have been done to prevent a nurse
Christine Sorensen, vice-president with the BC Nurses Union says more should have been done to prevent a nurse's injury at Eagle Ridge Hospital
— image credit: SUBMITTED PHOTO

The BC Nurses Union (BCNU) is complaining that a faulty paging system and inadequate staffing at Eagle Ridge Hospital led to unsafe conditions and a nurse being hit in the head with a rock by a patient.

The incident happened April 22, when a nurse tried to prevent a dementia patient from falling off a second-floor balcony at the Port Moody hospital. She called for a Code White to be put through the paging system but the announcement was garbled and hard to hear, so she had to deal with the man alone.

The patient reportedly elbowed, head-butted and hit her in the head with a rock he picked up, sending the nurse to ER for stitches.

She is now at home recovering from the incident, according to Christine Sorensen, BCNU vice-president, who said the situation could have been prevented if the faulty paging system had been repaired earlier and more staffing was in place to deal with a dementia patient.

“The nurses have been complaining about the system being inadequate for two months,” Sorensen said. “Subsequently, somebody was injured because they didn’t respond to the Code White.”

Sorensen said nurses are also concerned about Code Blue calls not being heard — those let staff know when a patient is unresponsive because of a cardiac arrest or another potentially fatal condition.

“There was a delay to the call, putting the patient at risk,” Sorensen said.


The faulty paging system has been a problem at the hospital for some time and ERH’s executive director, Valerie Spurrell, said efforts are being made to repair it. It’s used most often for routine announcements but once or twice a month for Code White or Code Blue calls, Spurrell said. She noted that calls are also relayed through the emergency department when they are hard to hear and the hospital is working on a permanent solution.

“We will continue to work with Health Shared Services BC to find a permanent solution to this issue,” Spurrell said. “In the meantime, we are working closely with our staff to ensure a safe and healthy working environment for them and our patients.”

But for BCNU’s Sorensen, the fact the patient in last Tuesday’s incident wasn’t identified as a dementia patient and was put on a regular medical unit without appropriate staffing and monitoring is the bigger issue.

“These units are for dressings, medication adjustments and more chronic health and cardio respiratory [issues], not patients with unpredictable aggressive mental health issues that may require one-on-one nursing care,” she said.

As well, Sorensen said nurses across B.C. are concerned about how the system is dealing with dementia patients because hospitals don’t have staff, training and facilities to deal with them.


Eagle Ridge’s director of medicine disagrees. Shannon deBruyckere said there was no prior indication the patient was violent but if he had been, a note would have been put in his file and a care plan would have been in place for him.

In addition, ERH has a longstanding violence-prevention policy and provides various levels of training. It will be reviewing the incident to ensure the level of security is appropriate and is actively looking to increase the number of trained staff for the Advance Team Response, who deal with Code White calls.

“Experience has shown that the majority of our Code White calls are made due to a senior patient suffering from dementia or other cognitive related illness,” deBruyckere said. “Like most hospitals in the province, Eagle Ridge serves a large seniors population. Therefore, it is not unusual to see these types of patients in our hospital.”

She recommended that staff take violence-prevention programs that are already available for free at the hospital.


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