Royal Ottawa and CAMH face new prosecutions for unsafe workplaces

Photograph of the exterior of the Royal Ottawa Centre for Mental Health.

Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre

It’s not every day that a major Ontario psychiatric hospital is placed on trial, much less two.

Health care workers across the province will be closely watching the outcome of an ongoing trial following charges against the Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre under the Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act.

The Royal unsuccessfully sought a stay of proceedings, arguing that testimony could be tainted by recent media coverage. The Ottawa Citizen reports that Justice of the Peace John Doran rejected the hospital’s arguments, noting that witness statements obtained before the trial would serve as a “baseline” of evidence.

As the trial got underway in December new charges were laid against the Royal Ottawa following an alleged stabbing of a nurse by a patient in October at the hospital’s Brockville site. The stabbing narrowly missed her carotid artery.

Following the attack, the Ontario Nurses’ Association applied to the Ontario Labour Relations Board for an Interim Order to place trained security guards on the unit where the alleged assault took place. ONA represents registered nurses at the Royal. The OLRB responded November 26 issuing an order to provide 24/7 security on the unit – an order the hospital has yet to comply with.

Representing two bargaining units at the Royal Ottawa’s Brockville site, OPSEU is seeking intervener status on this new case despite opposition from the hospital’s legal counsel.

The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health was also charged under the same Act in December — about a week after OPSEU and ONA issued a joint press release calling for action following an alleged January 2014 assault that left a registered practical nurse beaten beyond recognition. Both the OPSEU RPN and the ONA nurse who came to her assistance have been off work since the incident.

This is also not the first charge of its kind at CAMH – in 2009 the hospital was fined $70,000 after it pled guilty to two charges under the Occupational Health and Safety Act following two separate incidents in which nurses were assaulted.

Despite the new charges, ONA says CAMH failed to immediately notify them of a new critical incident that took place December 29 contrary to the requirements under the Occupational Health and Safety Act.

Workers in the health care sector have long complained there are two unwritten standards when it comes to prosecutions under the Occupational Health and Safety Act – one for the private sector and another for the public sector. As the number of incidents has escalated, OPSEU has advocated that the Ministry of Labour take the next step and enforce the Act through the courts. Dr. Leon Genosove, the Ministry of Labour’s Chief Physician, also spent a day last June hearing from OPSEU members and other invited experts on the issue during a forum organized by the union’s mental health division.

The new prosecutions may be a sign that the Ministry is finally listening. This is a significant change after years of mostly limiting their intervention to issuing orders at Ontario’s public hospitals.

Patients with mental illness are no more violent than the rest of society – as the patient advocates themselves admit, they are more likely to be victims of violence than the perpetrators of it. However, acuity rates are on the rise in Ontario’s psychiatric hospitals while staffing and services are either stagnant or in decline. Workers are telling us that this is leading to more unsafe working conditions.

In December Scientific America dubbed the rise of violence against health care workers to be an “epidemic,” pointing the finger at a number of officials including hospital administrators.

“Better violence-prevention plans – including training and incident reporting – can lessen the risk, but their adoption is stymied by indifference … the general disregard discourages health-care workers from reporting assaults, thus compounding the problem.”

In the U.S. nearly half of the assaults on came from patients or family members who were drunk or on drugs. Further, Scientific America estimates that half of the physical assaults on nurses go unreported while 80 per cent of verbal abuse goes unreported.


4 responses to “Royal Ottawa and CAMH face new prosecutions for unsafe workplaces

  1. Every day nurses and PSWs are hit, kicked, punched, bitten and spit on by dementia patients. What degree of injury constitutes an unsafe work environment?? When does the employer intervene to provide a ‘safe’ one??

    • The dangerousness of caring for the most needy of mental illness must be taken into consideration by those who now so poorly plan hospital services.

      Despite the well-meaning of those whose illness is not as severe who claim that dangerousness is rare in this group, this prevents sufficient understanding among others: psychosis is a dangerous place for caregivers.

      This knowledge must be built into institutions charged with their care.

      Family members must be protected too when hospitals refuse to accept the most ill. Their families are well aware of the possibility of harm from their psychotic offspring, but their love and sense of responsibility makes them accept the possibility of harm. This, because there are no safe alternatives for themselves or their loved ones.

      Family members have been murdered so often as a result, that they are now ready to speak publicly about the nightmares they are forced to endure because hospitals abandon their loved ones.

      So families “take the chance” in the certain, awful knowledge that hospitals are unwilling to hospitalize their mentally ill loved ones when they are in desperate need of medical attention. And parents too often are killed in their attempts to rescue their sick loved ones from homelessness and death on the cruel streets.

  2. Very encouraged that the Ministry of Labour ala Dr. Leon Genosove et al is finally taking serious measures to protect our workers from violence in Mental Health hospitals… However, they are a little late. Can’t help but reflect with sadness and more than just a little resentment that a certain GTA divested Mental Health facility with an equally (if not worse) horrendous record for reported violent incidents causing staff injuries under the Occupational Health and Safety Act have successfully managed to evade the similar scrutiny and legal intervention as CAMH and Royal Ottawa’s Brockville site. My first gut response to this essay was “So what does that make staff @ aforementioned GTA organization…chopped liver in the eyes of the MOL?” Tell that to struggling workers and their families whose lives have been seriously impacted by the failure of the employer to provide reasonable safety measures. So what about it Dr. Genosove? Why are some organizations being forced to protect their workers from violence while others go merrily along unscathed. Travesty.
    Thank you Diablogue yet again for posting this and other writings on such important issues.

  3. Hey Jiggs — we hear ya. Hopefully such charges will at least send a message to said GTA organization.

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