WINNIPEG: A Manitoba union representing security officers in the province’s hospitals says they are facing more violent patients and dangerous situations because of a methamphetamine crisis.
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.
In a letter sent to health and justice ministers on Tuesday, Gawronsky said officers are also finding patients at Winnipeg’s downtown Health Sciences Centre who are carrying dangerous weapons such as knives.
“With the increased use of meth and opioids drug, induced psychosis has resulted in a spike of violent situations involving patients and security staff at HSC,” the letter said.
Gawronsky asked the province for more training and equipment to ensure that people working in hospitals are safe. She said officers need a more elevated legal status to allow them to intervene in situations with more authority.
The 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 says meth use increased by more than 100 per cent in adults and nearly 50 per cent in youth since 2014.
The health authority said it takes safety and security seriously but guards are already equipped to respond to aggressive or violent incidents.
It says some guards at Health Sciences Centre also have a constable designation which is solely used to take custody of mental health patients who are brought to the hospital by police.
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.
Winnipeg’s police chief has said the skyrocketing use of methamphetamine is creating a crisis for police, health care services and addictions treatment centres.
Premier Brian Pallister said everyone is concerned about the safety of frontline workers, from nurses to police officers, but didn’t directly address the concerns of security officers.
“Police officers are having to deal with an increasing number of incidents, street-related incidents with meth users,” he said.