Hospital guards need more power to deal with meth-related violence: MGEU

A spike in meth-related hospital visits and violence at Health Sciences Centre has prompted a call to give security guards working at the hospital more power.

In a letter to the province dated Sept. 25, the Manitoba Government and General Employees’ Union, which represents 90 HSC security guards, said its members are feeling pressure to intervene but aren’t clear on the authority or power they have to intervene.

MGEU wants the province to give guards more power to do their jobs but didn’t expand on exactly what that would involve.

“These officers need a more elevated legal status to allow them to intervene in violent situations with more authority. This will obviously mean more training and possibly more equipment,” MGEU president Michelle Gawronsky said in a letter addressed to Manitoba Health Minister Cameron Friesen and Justice Minister Cliff Cullen. “There really is no time to wait – I can’t underscore enough with you both how important this issue is. We need to see urgent attention and action.”

Friesen said there are no issues with the level of security currently being provided at HSC.

“I’m disappointed that the MGEU is implying that security people at our facilities are not adequately trained,” said Friesen. “I can tell you that is not the case.”

“Security guards at these facilities are people who are formerly police officers, formerly military or trained at one of the private colleges. They also undertake ongoing and annual training upgrades.”

The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority said guards already have the authority to physically intervene, if needed.

“The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority takes the safety and security of our staff, patients and visitors seriously,” read an emailed statement from the WRHA. “All hospitals have on-site security and security guards have the capacity and ability to intervene in a situation with a potentially violent person if they pose a threat to themselves, the staff or the patients in our care.”

“There are no identified gaps in power or authority required for security guards in hospitals to respond to aggressive or violent incidents. The Criminal Code of Canada grants security guards in hospitals the power to carry out their duties, including intervening in situations. If further assistance is required, security guards contact the Winnipeg Police Service who responds promptly to calls for assistance.”

There has been a 1200 per cent increase in meth-related ER visits since 2013.

MGEU said the increased use of meth and opioids is resulting in more drug-induced psychosis which it blames for the spike in violence.

The union cited two recent incidents at HSC where a corrections officer was stabbed with surgical scissors in January and a security officer was stabbed with a syringe full of blood in June.

“Thankfully no one was seriously physically injured in either incident,” the letter reads. “These incidents are only a small sample of violent situations HSC security officers deal with on a daily basis.”

“Our members want to step in and do everything they can to protect themselves, other staff, patients, their families, and the public.”

The Manitoba Nurses’ Union is also calling for enhanced security.

“Manitoba’s nurses are reporting increasing incidences of violence within the WRHA and across the province,” said MNU president Darlene Jackson in a statement. “We know the growing methamphetamine crisis is playing a role in this, as the WRHA confirmed there has been a 1,200 per cent increase in the number of meth-related admissions to emergency rooms over the past five years.

“We are urging the government and WRHA to implement not only enhanced security, but provide more addictions treatment services and mental health beds to combat the crisis and utilize long-term, evidence based solutions to the problem.”

Friesen said Manitobans can expect announcements this fall on combatting meth.

“We have done some things already that will make a significant difference in our service, in our communities, in our city and across the province,” said Friesen. “Things like the RAAM (Rapid Access to Addictions Medicine) Clinics which will allow people presenting with addictions to get treatment faster.”

“Clearly, there is far more that needs to be done.”