Nurses feeling unsafe after patient-set fire at Winnipeg’s Victoria Hospital: union

The Manitoba Nurses Union says its members are scared and feel unsafe going to work after a patient deliberately set a fire inside one of the psychiatric wards at Winnipeg’s Victoria Hospital last week.

The fire was started on the hospital’s sixth floor by a patient who was receiving psychiatric treatment at Victoria on the morning of Jan. 9, CBC has learned.

“It was a really unfortunate incident,” Manitoba Nurses Union president Darlene Jackson said.

“A patient got into a room that they shouldn’t have been at. All the staff were busy and the patient set a fire in the room, and unfortunately it’s a situation where staff were just not available.”

One patient and three staff members were treated for injuries after the fire, the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority said last week.

The fire was quickly put out, but it set off sprinklers, causing flooding damage on the hospital’s fifth floor as well, according to the health authority. Twenty-one patients from the sixth floor were safely evacuated from their rooms and moved to another area of the hospital.

Jackson said nurses were busy with other patients at the time of the fire, and the patient who set the fire was able to slip away unnoticed.

“The nurses have been raising concerns involving staff and patient load and the higher acuity patients for quite some time,” she said. “They have absolutely brought this to the employer’s attention and to their managers’ attention.”

The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority refused to provide specifics of the incident, citing privacy concerns.

Both the Winnipeg Police Service and the WRHA said the incident is not being investigated as a criminal matter, but a health authority spokesperson added safety is a top priority within the hospital. 

“We understand this was an unexpected and stressful incident for those staff who responded immediately, as well as for those who work in the area,” the spokesperson said in an emailed statement.

But Jackson said nurses who work in that unit have repeatedly raised safety concerns for months and have been left traumatized by the incident.

“It is incredibly stressful even thinking about going into that unit,” she said. “They know that this is a risky situation and they are unable to deal with that risky situation with the staffing model that they have.”

Nurses are also concerned about other patients in the unit, said Jackson.

“It’s stressful … to be put in a situation where some of these patients need to have some intervention quickly, and if you’re understaffed, if you have higher patient loads, you can’t provide that intervention,” she said. 

The health authority said hospital leadership has met with staff in the affected area to discuss safety concerns after the incident, and have “developed new processes … to be sure we are appropriately identifying risks and mitigation strategies,” the WRHA spokesperson said in an email.

The health authority will continue to work with management and staff “to mitigate safety risks” and “support safe patient care on the unit,” said the spokesperson.