The charges stemmed from a January 2014 incident where a patient allegedly attacked a nurse at CAMH, dragging her, kicking her and beating her.
The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health pleaded guilty Monday to a workplace safety charge related to the 2014 beating of a nurse by a patient that reportedly left the victim “beyond recognition.”
Justice Robert Bigelow ordered the hospital to pay an $80,000 fine.
The Ontario Ministry of Labour laid four charges against the hospital in December 2014 following a Jan. 12, 2014, incident in which a patient allegedly dragged, kicked and beat a CAMH nurse who was conducting hourly rounds.
CAMH pleaded guilty to violating the Occupational Health and Safety Act by failing to develop, establish and put in place measures and procedures to protect the health and safety of workers. The three other charges were withdrawn by the ministry.
According to an agreed statement of facts read out in court by Crown attorney Line Forestier, the nurse was doing a round at 11 p.m. when a male patient pushed her to the ground from behind and began kicking her.
The victim could not activate her body-worn alarm, a device known as a “screamer,” or a wall-mounted alarm during the attack.
Two other nurses heard the commotion and went to investigate; one tried to stop the patient while the other ran back to the nursing station to call police. The nurse who stayed behind couldn’t stop the patient but got the victim to her feet. Both ran towards the station, but the patient caught up to them and continued the assault; the nurse fought him off with a chair before she and the victim entered the safety of the nursing station.
Toronto police arrived and arrested the patient for assault. The Star was unable to learn whether the patient was charged in the incident.
The attack left the victim with a fractured eye socket, lacerations to the face and head and wrist and back injuries, Forestier said. She was also diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and depression and has been unable to return to work.
The nurse who came to the victim’s aid suffered an injury that causes her chronic back pain and has also been diagnosed with PTSD, Forestier added. She, too, has been unable to return to work.
The patient had previously attacked a nurse at another facility in 2010, Forestier said. The nurse in that case required neural surgery. In 2013, the patient reported hearing voices telling him to harm staff but showed no intention of acting on the voices, and gave “no warning” the day of the attack.
The layout of the unit, which does not allow an unobstructed view, the dim lighting during night shifts and that nurses are not required to do patrols in pairs all hindered employee safety, Forestier said.
The ministry requested a fine of $100,000 to send “a clear message” that workplace violence, whether in the public or private sector, was not acceptable.
Representing CAMH, attorney Robert Little agreed that the attack was “very unfortunate” but said a fine of $70,000 was more in line with other hospital fines. Little pointed out that before the attack, the patient had scored zero out of seven on a violence assessment scale and also said it was “entirely speculative” to say paired patrols would have prevented the attack.
Following the decision, Danielle Latulippe-Larmand, president of the Ontario Nurses’ Association bargaining unit at CAMH, said she was happy that CAMH pleaded guilty but was disappointed with the fine. She said the hospital should be focusing on preventing violence instead of reacting to it.
“We should be able to go to work and go back home the same way we looked when we walked into work,” she said.
Nancy Pridham, president of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union bargaining unit at CAMH, agreed. She criticized the use of “screamers,” which depend on having someone around to hear the alarm going off, and said better systems that immediately alert 911 need to be implemented.
“We recognize that putting the kinds of measures we need in place is expensive, but in order to ensure that there’s no staff that ends up the way the staff have ended up at CAMH, we think the money is worth it,” she said. “We think that our lives are worth it.”
Pridham and Latulippe-Larmand both said they thought the hospital should have been fined the maximum amount allowed by law — $500,000 per charge.
In a statement, CAMH’s chief of nursing, Dr. Rani Srivastava, said the hospital accepts the court’s decision and that the incident had a “devastating impact” on “all of us at CAMH.”
“We deeply regret that we failed to meet our obligations for workplace safety, and that our valued staff members were injured.”
This is not the first time CAMH has been fined for violating the Occupational Health and Safety Act. In 2009, the hospital was fined $70,000 after, in separate incidents, one nurse was punched by a patient and another was molested.