Health-care workers ‘scared’ about rise in weapons showing up at hospitals

A knapsack with a loaded gun and knives in patient’s pants have all been discovered in Nova Scotia hospitals — and it’s scaring health-care workers. 

Both the Nova Scotia Nurses’ Union and the Canadian Union of Public Employees say their members are seeing more and more patients showing up to hospitals armed with weapons. 

“[They’re] scared, and they’re very concerned,” said Janet Hazelton, president of the nurses’ union. 

“We don’t know what’s in the pockets or the coats or the purses of the patients. It’s only when we start treatment that we may see it.” 

Janet Hazelton is president of the Nova Scotia Nurses’ Union. (Robert Short/CBC)

Neither union has statistics on how many weapons are being found by their members. All of the information is anecdotal.

Generally, more weapons show up in hospitals after a community has a large event like a concert, said Hazelton. 

Knives are the most common weapons they find. But guns do appear from time to time, especially in urban communities.

Hazelton said they even had an incident where a loaded gun was discovered in a hospital. 

“The loaded gun it was in a knapsack on the benches outside the emerg department and the police found it,” she said.

Hazelton did not say where or when the incident happened. 

Hazelton says sometimes people have knives or guns hidden in their clothing when they come to hospital. (Elizabeth Chiu/CBC)

People in a mental health crisis are also showing up to hospitals armed, according to CUPE, the union that represents 12,000 health-care workers in Nova Scotia.

“That’s indicative of the bigger problem we have in society that there’s nowhere for these people to turn to for help. By the time they get to an emergency room, they are in absolute crisis,” said Jenna Brookfield, the union’s health and safety officer.

“It puts them at tremendous risk and not just the workers, but everyone else who’s at that hospital seeking care is at tremendous risk as well.” 

As more weapons show up in hospitals, both unions say the Nova Scotia Health Authority needs to make big changes.

Hazelton said more trained security staff are needed for hospitals to help protect workers, and some kind of lockdown procedure needs to be established for all health-care facilities across the province. 

Hazelton says that hospitals need to put in place lock down procedures to better protect patients and workers in case of an emergency involving a weapon. (Thawornnurak/Shutterstock)

She said a lockdown plan would include familiarizing police with a building’s layout so they can quickly find their way around in an emergency. 

“If the police are responding and I say that there is a gunman in the emerg, the RCMP that respond to that call, they may not even know where emerg is, or the medical unit, or how many people are on the medical unit,” said Hazelton. 

Health authority developing safety guidelines  

The Nova Scotia Health Authority was not able to meet a CBC News request for information before deadline. 

However, the health authority did provide a copy of its annual progress report on improving workplace safety in emergency departments.

The report states that the health authority is in the process of developing guidelines for how to respond to a violent person or situation.

It’s not clear what the plan involves or when it will be completed.

The health authority is also in the process of training staff on how to deal with an “active shooter” situation. So far, 4,100 staff have attended education sessions on that topic.  

Still, Hazelton said more needs to be done to protect health-care workers. 

“It’s very concerning that I’m safer at a hockey game than I am at work,” she said.

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