Southlake Regional Centre Fined $80,000 for Hospital Workers’ Injuries from Workplace Violence

In Provincial
Convicted: Southlake Regional Health Centre, 596 Davis Drive, Newmarket, Ontario, a public hospital and health care facility that provides mental health services under the Mental Health Act.

Location: 596 Davis Drive, Newmarket.

Description of Offence: Two workers were injured as a result of workplace violence exercised by a patient.

Date of Offence: January 17, 2019.

Date of Conviction: October 16, 2020.

Penalty Imposed:

  • Following a guilty plea, Southlake Regional Health Centre was fined $80,000 in provincial offences court in Newmarket by Justice Edward Prutschi; Crown Counsel Indira Stewart.
  • The court also imposed a 25-per-cent victim fine surcharge as required by the Provincial Offences Act. The surcharge is credited to a special provincial government fund to assist victims of crime.

Background:

  • Southlake Regional Health Centre provides public health care services to the community and is a “psychiatric facility” pursuant to the Ontario Mental Health Act to provide specialized observation, care and treatment of patients suffering from psychiatric disorders.
  • The incident took place in an enclosed unit known as the Mental Health and Wellness Area Unit (MHWA) of Southlake’s emergency department. It is an emergency psychiatric assessment area where patients are evaluated, treated and possibly admitted to the psychiatric ward of the hospital.
  • The MHWA has a nursing station facing a common area where patients or visitors can walk freely.
  • To provide care to patients, workers must access this common area through a single door from the nursing station. To exit, a worker has to ‘swipe’ an electronic lock with a key card.
  • At the time of the incident, the nursing station was not equipped with any method to effectively communicate from the nursing station into the common area of the MHWA without opening the door of the station. To talk to a patient, staff had to open the door and speak to them directly.
  • A patient was brought to Southlake that morning by a York Regional police officer, was admitted to the MHWA  and was flagged as being a moderate violence risk
  • The patient in question was placed in the MHWA.  The patient proceeded to exhibit escalating behaviour.
  • A worker was attempting to deliver food to a different patient and entered the unit accompanied by another worker. The food was delivered and the two workers approached the door to the nursing station to exit the common area.
  • The patient admittied that morning struck one of the workers and then struck the other worker. The blows were sufficient to result in serious injuries to both workers.
  • The investigation by Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development (MLTSD) inspectors found that while Southlake did implement some policies dealing with workplace violence in the MHWA, several hazards remained for which the employer had failed to conduct a proper risk assessment to determine what reasonable precautions were needed to the protect the safety of the workers. Among the deficiencies:
  • There was no effective means of communication between workers in the nursing station and persons in the common area.
  • There was no procedure in place requiring the admitting staff to ask more extensive questions regarding a patient’s history of violence.
  • There were no procedures in place to address generally the hazard of an escalating patient being present in the common area, and nothing specifically addressing how to safely enter or exit the common area in these circumstances.
  • Pursuant to section 25(2)(h) of the Occupational Health and Safety Act, Southlake has a legal duty as an employer to take every reasonable precaution in the circumstances for the protection of its workers. This includes protection against workplace violence.
  • On January 17, 2019, Southlake failed, as an employer, to take the reasonable precaution of establishing effective means of communication between workers in the nursing station and persons in the common area of the MHWA, contrary to section 25(2)(h) of the act.
  • Furthermore, on January 17, 2019, Southlake failed, as an employer, to take the reasonable precaution of developing and/or establishing a procedure for the safe entry to and/or egress from the common area of the MHWA when a person is presenting with escalating behaviour, contrary to section 25(2)(h) of the act.
Pete Fisher
Author: Pete Fisher

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