Exclusive: Violence in GTA hospitals on the rise

By Cristina Howorun

A serious assault on a nurse and security guard at Southlake Regional Health Centre in Newmarket last week was just the latest in an increasing number of violent incidents in Ontario hospitals.

The security guard had a broken orbital bone. The nurse remains in hospital with several broken facial bones and a brain injury.

Violence in our hospitals isn’t often so severe, but it is on the rise — not only at Southlake, but also at most hospitals surveyed by CityNews.

Through a series of Freedom of Information requests to GTA hospitals, CityNews has learned the number of so-called code whites — used to alert staff about a violent person in the building — is on the rise.

In 2016, there were 112 code whites at St. Michael’s Hospital, 206 at St. Joseph’s Health Centre, 119 at Toronto General Hospital and 161 at Credit Valley Hospital in Mississauga. All of the hospitals noticed an increase in 2017, and most were on pace for even more increases by the end of 2018. (Data collected ends in June 2018.)

Perhaps most alarmingly, Brampton Civic Hospital was on pace for more than 600 incidents at the end of last year.

“It’s really sad and really shocking to see how many code whites we’ve had at Brampton Civic Hospital,” Brampton NDP MPP Sara Singh told CityNews.

“Over 400 — That means every single day we’re seeing at least one code white, if not more. And we’re continuing to see those numbers increase.”

Dr. Naveed Mohammad, executive VP of Quality, Medical & Academic Affairs at William Osler Health Centre, said code whites are more prevalent at the group (which includes Brampton Civic), because staff members are encouraged to sound the alarm whenever they feel there’s a potential for violence.

“We’d rather have staff be proactive and do those things early then wait until the situation becomes more dangerous. Most of our code whites are situations where de-escalation happens,” he explained.

“Code whites are not people running around and tackling people or fighting — that’s what we don’t want to get to.”

He stressed that patients aren’t the only source of code whites — they can arise from hospital visitors or people entering the hospital off the street — but many stem from patients suffering from mental health issues.

“We have close to 100 beds overall at Osler, and 75 at Brampton, that serve mental health patients,” Mohammad said.

“We’re the only level one facility in our (Local Health Integration Network) — which means that for this whole catchment area of over one million people, we’re the only facility that deals with the highest level of mental health patients. We also have the lowest number of psychiatrists per capita in the province.

“We admit the third most mental health patients in the province. The only two organizations that admit more mental health patients than us is (the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health) which is a mental-health-only facility and Homewood (Health Centre) which is a mental health and addictions facility. Our one unit at Brampton Civic could be its own, full-blown mental health facility. “

Mohammad said care is tough to access in the community, resulting in patients that come into the hospital at the “height of their illness.”

“We saw this government cut $330 million out of mental health funding,” Singh said.

“So rather than investing and making sure that those services are going to continue in the communities, this government is looking for ways to cut and find efficiencies rather than invest in services that are needed.”

The provincial government recently committed to spending $3.8 billion on mental health care services over the next 10 years — its first investment was for 50 more mental health beds at 12 different hospitals — but Mohammad said much of the violence in hospitals could be avoided with investment outside of their halls.

“If the ministry can provide or work with us to provide more resources in the community to help our mental health patients, that would be a big step forward for us,” he said.

In a statement to CityNews, Hayley Chazan, spokeswoman for Health Minister Christine Elliott, said the Ford government is making “the biggest commitment to mental health in provincial history.”

“Minister Elliott is in the process of hosting province-wide consultations on mental health to help inform the development of a comprehensive and connected mental health and addictions strategy,” she said.

However, Chazan didn’t say whether the province would address violence in hospitals, for example by mandating the number of security personnel on staff or providing funding for additional security.

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