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Forensic psych hospital hit with max fine

A $646K penalty levied for assault incidents at Coquitlam facility
The Forensic Psychiatric Hospital in Coquitlam.

WorkSafeBC has levied its maximum penalty against the Forensic Psychiatric Hospital (FPH) in Coquitlam.

The hospital has been slapped with an administrative penalty of $646,304.88 for two incidents last spring, which is the most WorkSafeBC can impose for anything that happened in 2018.

In the first instance in March, two workers were injured after a patient was brought into a seclusion room without risks associated with the patient explained to the workers or the presence of a safety officer. The second incident took place in May, when three workers were injured when a remand patient with a documented history of violence was admitted without a patient chart to a ward that wasn’t a maximum security unit despite concerns raised by staff. 

The reports said FPH did not ensure proper procedures to minimize the risk of violence.

“This employer has failed to ensure the health and safety of all workers present at the workplace at which this employer’s work is being carried out,” said one of the reports provided by WorkSafeBC to The Tri-City News.

B.C. Nurses Union president Christine Sorensen told The News the penalty validates concerns and fears nurses have been documenting for years and have been calling for the Provincial Health Services Authority (PHSA), which runs the facility, to address.

“This was getting out of hand, nurses were getting seriously injured and there didn’t seem to be any efforts to change,” said Sorensen.

In addition to the WorkSafe BC complaints that led to the large fine, the nurses had their own concerns, which they raised during the summer.

The BCNU, which has more than 200 members working at FPH, said on Aug. 13, a nurse in the maximum-security unit received severe facial injuries in an incident. And on Aug. 5 a nurse was sucker punched and suffered head injuries.

The B.C. Government and Service Employees Union (BCGEU), which represents more than 270 FPH workers, also raised concerns at that time. It noted in the previous five years 57 safety orders had been issued and $171,000 in fines had been levied against FPH.

Lynn Pelletier, vice-president of BC Mental Health and Substance Use Services, in a statement to The Tri-City News, said many of the issues have been addressed, in conjunction with the unions since September, including the hiring of 50 more security officers and nurses.

“It’s important to note that we have made a number of improvements to the hospital and it is a different place than it was last spring, when these events occurred. These improvements include the recruitment of new security and clinical staff, improved clinical supervision, staff training and approaches to security, facility upgrades and a new leadership team. As a result of these changes we announced in the fall and others in our action plan, aggressive incidents have decreased significantly,” said Pelletier.

But Sorensen said the changes have been slow to come about with many of those hired just starting training and some urgency is needed.

“We’re seeing them just now come to fruition and it’s very frustrating for the nurses,” said Sorensen. “We’re still waiting for those people to be fully functional and ready to help the nursing team.

“There’s a greater awareness of violence in the site [since the changes], greater attention to the training of all staff in the facility. There has been a reduction in serious physical assaults, but patients still tend to be aggressive. There is still work to be done. I still think we have a long way to go.”

Sorensen said the penalty was unprecedented and since the money would come from a public entity she hopes some consideration is given to having the taxpayers dollars that have been pulled out of the healthcare system plowed back into improving the facility.

“Removing taxpayer money out of the healthcare system is not what we’re trying to achieve,” said Sorensen.

BCNU is reviewing the ruling and may ask that the money be used to fund safety and violence prevention solutions for the facility. The union noted FPH was fined $15,000 in 2016 and $75,000 in 2014 while a health-care worker was stabbed by a patient in 2012 and can’t afford to keep being penalized.

“It is of considerable financial interest for the employer to provide a safe working environment for all staff and be mindful of the fact that taxpayer dollars should not be spent on record-making fines,” said Sorensen.

The BCNU and the BCGEU also went public in August and September about incidents at FPH that were not part of this ruling. Sorensen said it is up to WorkSafeBC to determine what actions should be taken in those cases.

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