WINNIPEG – The president of a Manitoba union representing security officers in the province’s hospitals has invited the health minister to sit with her in an emergency room to see the dangerous situations fuelled by methamphetamine.
Michelle Gawronsky, president of the Manitoba Government and General Employees’ Union, said it’s not uncommon for officers to be kicked, punched or spit on.
“Come and sit in an ER with me on a Friday night of a full moon minister. Let’s take a look at what’s happening out there because I know what’s happening out there,” she said Wednesday.
Gawronsky sent a letter to health and justice ministers on Tuesday that said officers are finding patients at Winnipeg’s downtown Health Sciences Centre who are carrying dangerous weapons such as knives.
She also pointed to an incident in January where a corrections officer escorting a patient was stabbed with surgical scissors and another in June where a security guard was stabbed with a syringe full of blood.
Gawronsky told the province officers need a more elevated legal status to allow them to intervene in situations with more authority. Right now, she said officers don’t know whether they can physically intervene if someone is acting out at the hospital.
Health Minister Cameron Friesen said meth has caused challenges across the country. He said the province is looking for ways to provide addictions treatment and maintain safety in health-care facilities.
Friesen said he was disappointed the union was implying security personnel are not adequately trained.
“All security officers in these facilities have the ability, have the training and are licenced under the Criminal Code to intervene and make that intervention,” he said, adding many are former police or military.
The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority also said guards are properly equipped to respond to aggressive or violent incidents.
It said some guards at Health Sciences Centre have a constable designation which is solely used to take custody of mental health patients who are brought to the hospital by police.
Gawronsky’s letter was sent just days after the Manitoba Nurses Union raised concerns after a nurse was punched in the face by a patient high on methamphetamine. Union president Darlene Jackson said nurses are seeing more violence across the province.
“We are urging the government and (the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority) 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,” Jackson said in an emailed statement.
Numbers from Winnipeg’s health authority show there has been a 1,200 per cent rise in people going to hospitals because of methamphetamine — from 12 in April 2013 to 218 meth-related visits in April 2018.
Addictions Foundation of Manitoba said meth use increased by more than 100 per cent in adults and nearly 50 per cent in youth since 2014.
Winnipeg’s police chief has said the skyrocketing use of methamphetamine is creating a crisis for police, health care services and addictions treatment centres.
Police have said meth has become the drug of choice in Manitoba because it’s available, easy to make and it can get people high for up to 14 hours. Meth can also induce psychosis, causing users to act unpredictably.