Front Line Staff and Patients Need Protection

I applaud PEI’s chief mental health and addictions officer, Dr. Heather Keizer, for her recent remarks about the state of mental health care on the Island. She is right to point out the need for decision makers to listen to those working on the front lines, and she is right when she says ignoring this input will worsen the crisis in mental health. 

The Prince Edward Island Union of Public Sector Employees represents a wide variety of health care professionals who are the front line caregivers in our health care system.  We hear on a regular basis from our members about the violence they experience in their workplaces and how they are made to feel it is just "part of the job." Being assaulted or being put at serious risk of assault is not part of the job.  The province needs to put measures in place to ensure the health and safety of staff, patients and the public in our hospitals and health care facilities.  This includes providing sufficient staff, and the right staff, to deal with violent incidences such as the one that occurred most recently at the Hillsborough Hospital in Charlottetown. It’s true that no one can predict violent outbursts, however; the employer needs to have the mechanisms in place to deal with these incidents when they occur.  

The security report commissioned by the province for Hillsborough Hospital recommended 88 much needed upgrades to safely and adequately care for existing patients and forensic patients.  In the past, forensic patients have been cared for at the East Coast Forensic Hospital in Nova Scotia. However, the plan now is to have them admitted to Hillsborough. Forensic patients are patients who have a mental illness and are involved with the criminal justice system.   

With a forensic admission the criteria changes in regard to safely managing their care. This means providing a safe working environment that protects front line staff, the other patients, and the forensic patients themselves. The report estimated that the cost of these upgrades was $2.1 million.  The upgrades are necessary to ensure the health and safety of front line staff, the residents and for providing a safe area to house forensic patients. Unfortunately, only $600,000 was provided for the upgrades.  

I understand the importance of providing a balanced budget for the province, however; this should not come at the expense of the health and safety of our front line staff in the workplace. My members are experiencing the reality of dealing with violent admissions. When you have front line workers telling decision makers that there is a crisis in mental health and addictions, and the leadership at our main hospitals agreeing that the system is in dire need, it’s time to act.  I would like to know what recommendations were ignored in the security report for Hillsborough Hospital, and who will be at risk because of government underfunding? As Dr. Keizer says, it’s the staff and patients who are at risk. The funding provided   falls short, ignores recommendations of the report that the province commissioned, and puts our members at risk.  I am very concerned and believe it’s only a matter of time until someone is seriously injured or worse.  

Karen Jackson,
President, PEI Union of Public Sector Employees