Newmarket’s Southlake hospital will make its first court appearance Feb. 7 to answer to nine charges brought against it by Ontario’s Labour Ministry after an 11-month investigation into a patient attack on a nurse and security guard on the premises.
The Jan. 17, 2019 incident saw York Regional Police charge a 21-year-old Toronto man with assault and assault causing bodily harm in the incident that turned violent quickly at the Southlake Regional Health Centre emergency department and adult inpatient mental health unit.
The registered nurse suffered serious head injuries, and the security guard was also injured.
The hospital faces fines up to $1.5 million for each charge if convicted under the Occupational Health and Safety Act, which alleges seven counts or violations that relate to taking every precaution reasonable to protect a worker, and two counts of providing information, instruction and supervision to workers to protect their health or safety, a ministry spokesperson said.
None of the allegations has been proven in court. The Ministry of Labour laid the charges against Southlake on Dec. 23, 2019.
The union that represents more than 68,000 registered nurses and health-care professionals welcomed the charges, saying its tireless efforts to hold Southlake accountable for nearly one year in the critical workplace violence incident was instrumental in the action.
“The Ontario Nurses’ Association worked tirelessly, pressuring the ministry and the attorney general to press charges against this employer for its gross disregard of the Occupational Health and Safety Act, and its obligation to protect staff and patients,” association president Vicki McKenna said in a Jan. 20 statement. “It is clear that the inspectors have worked diligently to gather the evidence to support these charges.”
Since the attack occurred, McKenna said the union tried repeatedly but unsuccessfully to persuade Southlake to introduce measures to protect workers and patients.
“We are hopeful that these charges will set a precedent for other employers in the province in that they must do everything under the act to protect and safeguard workers and patients,” said McKenna.
Southlake spokesperson Matt Haggerty said Friday in a statement to NewmarketToday that violent incidents such as the one that took place in January 2019 are rare.
“As soon as the incident happened, we took immediate action to add more security guards to the area where it occurred. We made physical changes to make the space safer and also hired a safety officer dedicated to workplace violence prevention,” Haggerty said. “Later this year, we will be opening a new Mental Health Assessment Unit to provide a safer place to assess and treat mental health patients after they present to the Emergency Department.”
The hospital has also worked with frontline staff and union partners to institute changes to minimize the risk for staff, he said, such as a new tool to help staff identify patients with the potential for violence and training to help de-escalate a potentially violent situation.
In addition, Southlake has hired new security services provider Paladin, and it will be the first hospital in Ontario to adopt an innovative new program to help support and keep agitated patients calm before problems arise, Haggerty added.
Southlake has no further comment as the matter is before the courts, he said.
Southlake Regional Health Centre’s first court appearance is scheduled for Feb. 7, 2020 at the Ontario Court of Justice at 50 Eagle St. W. in Newmarket.