Hospital workers sound alarm

INSIDE THE EMERGENCY DEPARTMENT: Hospital staff have spoken out claiming they feel under threat nearly every day by aggressive behaviour and potential violence. Picture: SANDRA MORELLO

INSIDE THE EMERGENCY DEPARTMENT: Hospital staff have spoken out claiming they feel under threat nearly every day by aggressive behaviour and potential violence. Picture: SANDRA MORELLO

MOUNT Gambier Hospital emergency department staff claim they fear for their safety almost every day due to the lack of dedicated security personnel at the regional health site.

New claims by emergency department staff yesterday reveal there are “code black” type incidents regularly at the facility and they feel “under threat”.

These claims coming from inside the hospital also include ramping at the emergency department and the fact the code black emergency button did not work for some months.

Fed up medical staff – who contacted The Border Watch yesterday – also expressed their anger that hospital administration appeared to be “sweeping the issue under the carpet”.

It is understood staff have raised the alarm bells with hospital administration and the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation SA branch (ANMF SA) over the pressing security issues.

Figures released by the hospital yesterday show there were 27 official code black incidents at the hospital from July 1 to October 1 this year, including five in the emergency department.

Hospital management says the number of code blacks had fallen compared with last year and have continued to deny there is a shortfall in security arrangements.

While police were called to the facility on Saturday night and a man was arrested for disorderly behaviour and resisting arrest, the hospital says there was no official code black incident.

“There was no code black called on Saturday night in the emergency department and no staff or patients were harmed,” Country Health SA acting regional director Kylie Williams said.

“The safety of our patients and staff is our first priority and we are constantly reviewing our services and policies to see where improvements can be made.”

In the most recent three-month period at Mount Gambier Hospital, she said the hospital had noticed a drop in the number of code black incidents compared with the same period last year.

“Private security officers provide services in the ED waiting room on occasion or during periods of high demand and we are evaluating these services to see whether they are improving patient and visitor behaviour in the hospital,” Ms Williams said.

She said administration and triage staff were seated behind an “armoured glass privacy screen”.

“Staff are always encouraged to discuss any questions or concerns with their line managers or senior staff. All concerns are appropriately and promptly addressed,” Ms Williams said
“All patients are prioritised according to clinical need, with those with life-threatening conditions treated immediately.

“I’d like to thank all of our hard working doctors, nurses and allied health professionals for their commitment to our patients during this busy time.”

But a whistle-blower who contacted The Border Watch yesterday claim the violence and tensions were being fuelled by alcohol and crystal methamphetamine use as well as long waiting times in the emergency department.

“Staff who work at night and on weekends are pretty scared,” the staff member said.

The worker said code black type incidents were almost a daily occurrence and the clerk behind the front counter was being left overnight without any dedicated security personnel.

“Administration do their 9am to 5pm jobs, go home and leave us to deal with these issues,” the worker said.

“Staff are under threat and they do not seem to care,” the whistle-blower said.

The staff member – who wanted to remain anonymous – said the security issue had reached flashpoint and something needed to be done before workers were seriously hurt.

She revealed there had already been nurses and doctors assaulted by patients with some medical staff choosing not to press charges.

The hospital worker also hit out at the nursing federation for not acting on behalf of their Mount Gambier members.

She said the employees had contacted the federation but it only seems to care about issues at new Royal Adelaide Hospital.

But ANMF SA chief executive officer Adj Associate Professor Elizabeth Dabars said yesterday the association took all member concerns seriously, particularly when it comes to issues that pose a risk to their safety.

“Ensuring our members can provide the best care in the safest environment possible is one of our key priorities and this applies to our members in regional and city locations, who are all feeling the impacts of increasing levels of violence in our hospitals,” Ms Dabars said.

“We have raised the issue with the head of Country Health SA and directly with the former Health Minister and we have also been in recent discussions with the new Minister and the CEO of SA Health to address violent and aggressive behaviours in health settings.”

She said this issue was also on the agenda for discussion at this month’s ANMF SA council meeting where it would be ratifying proposals to increase safety and security measures for nursing staff employed within regional country emergency departments.

“We continue to assert that CEOs of Local Health Networks owe a duty of care to their employees to provide them a safe work environment and that we are more than willing to prosecute for breach of occupational safety and welfare laws,” Ms Dabars said.

“In addition, we continue to advocate for hospitals to withdraw services from people who do not have life threatening illnesses who are violent and aggressive without a clinical cause.”

“We will keep all of our members informed of the outcomes determined at our meeting and pursuing action to address this important issue.”