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Province must act immediately after tragic patient death at St. Joseph’s; front-line staff call for coroner’s inquest.

HAMILTON, ON – Front-line staff at St. Joseph’s Healthcare (where a forensic patient was beaten to death by another patient) say that after a registered practical nurse was beaten “beyond recognition” two years ago, they warned the hospital that overcrowding and understaffing was putting patient and worker safety at risk. Despite voicing repeated concerns over patient and staff safety, they were “essentially ignored by the hospital administration.

This tragic death could have been prevented. We are asking that the province act immediately to add sufficient beds to alleviate overcrowding on this unit. We are also asking for enough staff to ensure that the hospital environment is safe for patients and staff,” said Michael Hurley the president of the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions (OCHU) the hospital division of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE).

Over 1,100 delegates at CUPE’s annual convention in Windsor last week unanimously passed an emergency resolution calling for a public coroner’s inquest into the patient death at St. Joseph’s. A community rally is being organized for June 7 in Hamilton in an effort to push the province to act.

Ontario, said Hurley, spends $330 less per person on hospitals than other Canadian provinces and over 18,000 beds have been closed in just over a decade. As a result, hospital bed occupancy rates are at 98 per cent.

Twenty-six patients were crammed into the 20-bed medium security unit at St. Joseph’s where both the men involved in the violent attack were patients. Recent cost-cutting at the hospital has included layoffs of nurses - often leaving the unit understaffed.

“Regrettably this brutal death is inextricably linked to overcrowding, understaffing and lack of security. We are calling for a coroner’s inquest to investigate and to make recommendations that will keep patients and staff safer,” said Hurley who also called for an immediate increase to staffing and beds at St. Joseph’s.

It is well known, and well documented that critical incidents, similar to the violent attack that happened at St. Joseph’s last week are more likely to happen in understaffed facilities. A coroner’s inquest in 2006 into the deaths of residents at Casa Verde - a long-term care home - recommended increased staffing in specialized facilities and units caring for demented and cognitively impaired and aggressive individuals in order to prevent violent incidents.

“The hospital is responsible for assessing risk. This includes the risks associated with working units understaffed and at 30 per cent of over capacity. The trauma to the staff who often put their own safety on the line to keep a patient safe, has a huge human cost,” said Domenic DiPasquale the president of CUPE 786 who offered condolences on behalf of CUPE 786 members to the family of the patient killed. “Keeping patients and staff safe should be the hospital’s and provincial government’s priority, not cutting costs through understaffing and overcrowding,” he said.

For more information please contact:

Michael Hurley, President, Ontario Council of Hospital Unions (OCHU/CUPE), (416) 884-0770

Domenic DiPasquale, President, CUPE 786, (905) 524-0459

Stella Yeadon, CUPE Communications, (416) 559-9300