The union representing Ontario's registered nurses is calling for better protection for those working with mental-health patients after a nurse was allegedly beaten while providing care this week in Toronto.
The Ontario Nurses' Association says a female nurse at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health was "beaten and critically injured" by a patient on Monday.
The alleged incident occurred at noon when the nurse was caring for a patient in a medium-security unit at the site, the ONA says. The patient then "pushed her down and punched her in the head several times" and the nurse was taken to hospital.
Linda Haslam-Stroud, president of the ONA, said this incident is an example of an escalating issue surrounding violence at Ontario mental-health facilities over the past year. She said there were 453 incidents of assault or abuse of nurses at CAMH in 2014.
On Dec. 23, the Ministry of Labour laid four charges against CAMH under the Occupational Health and Safety Act for another incident in January, 2014, involving an alleged beating of a nurse by a patient.
The charges allege that CAMH failed to provide sufficient information and supervision to protect a worker from workplace violence and failed to put in place measures and procedures to protect workers from workplace violence. CAMH, which plans to "vigorously" defend the charges, could face up $2-million in fines if convicted of all four.
"The violent incidents are escalating and the nurses are trying to provide care. Violence isn't part of our job," Ms. Haslam-Stroud said.
She said a number of hazards, such as lack of appropriate staffing, training and risk assessment on patients, must be addressed.
"It's very apparent from the number of incidents that have taken place that it isn't happening," she said. "These patients are very volatile. We know that and we want to care for them, but we also need to be safe as well. We want to go home at the end of our shift."
Ms. Haslam-Stroud said the nurse involved in the latest incident had not yet returned to work as of Thursday.
She said CAMH failed to inform the Ministry of Labour of the alleged attack until the following day, contrary to a provision of the Occupational Health and Safety Act that requires employers to "immediately" notify the ministry when a worker suffers a critical workplace injury.
The ministry visited the site on Wednesday as part of its investigation. Some steps have been taken to immediately address the situation, according the ministry's field visit report. These include temporarily stationing an additional security guard and other staff at the unit. The patient was also escorted to a "seclusion room."
"The Ministry of Labour takes incidents of workplace violence and workplace harassment very seriously. Everyone should be able to work in a safe and healthy workplace," it said in a statement.
"The ministry is investigating the events of Dec. 29, and, as with any investigation related to workplace violence, the ministry will determine if there were any violations of the Occupational Health and Safety Act. As the matter is under investigation, it would be inappropriate for the ministry to comment further."
Jenifferjit Sidhu, a spokeswoman for Toronto Police, said the force is also investigating after being called on Tuesday. She described the incident at CAMH as an "assault," and said the nurse suffered non-life-threatening injuries.
CAMH spokeswoman Kate Richards said in e-mail that the centre is working closely with the ministry. "At this point, we cannot provide any more detail as the investigation is ongoing. We hope to have more to share once the investigation is complete," she said.
In 2009, CAMH was fined $70,000 after pleading guilty to charges surrounding the beatings of two nurses by patients that occurred over the previous two years.