Doctor cites safety concerns

by Phil Ambroziak

Safety continues to be a concern for doctors at the La Loche Health Centre and Hospital.

During the monthly meeting of the Keewatin Yatthé Regional Health Authority (KYRHA), held April 30 in Green Lake, KYRHA senior medical officer Dr. Stephen Britton informed the board of directors about the concerns physicians have when it comes to protecting themselves against potentially unruly patients.

“Safety is an issue, particularly when it comes to the size of the offices (at the clinic),” Britton said. “They’re very small and there’s not much room for physicians to escape if they need to, especially if the door is locked.”

Britton went on to note safety concerns have been known to arise primarily when patients request a prescription for narcotics, adding there have been incidents in the past where patients have exhibited threatening behaviour when asking for the drugs. He suggested the possibility of installing some sort of panic button in the rooms to allow doctors the opportunity to call for help when need be.

“Are they giving narcotics out in the emergency department?” asked board chair Tina Rasmussen.
Britton said this was not the case, although the atmosphere in the ER has also been known to be threatening at times. He also said, as a safety precaution in typical hospital or clinic settings, doctors will position themselves so they are the ones sitting closest to the door.

“That’s not always something you can do at the (La Loche) offices,” he noted.” They’re not designed like that.”

While Rasmussen agreed this would be something to consider if a redesign of the facility was to ever take place in the future, she also asked if there are any other solutions to these types of situations aside from a “panic button.”

“It would just be good to have some way of alerting the secretary or someone to open the door,” Britton said. “We haven’t experienced anything like this in Ile-a-la Crosse except once. A fellow pulled out a set of brass knuckles, but he was eventually talked out of using them.”

Britton also said at least one complaint has been received from a member of the public alleging narcotics have made their way onto the streets.

“Can narcotic prescriptions be tracked at the pharmacy level?” Rasmussen wondered while also inquiring about a patient’s ability to have prescriptions filled at more than one location.

“If there is any cause for suspicion, a pharmacist could pull up the patient’s profile, which would show everywhere they’ve had a particular prescription filled,” Britton said. “If he or she is conscientious, they could call us. It does happen, but it doesn’t happen often.”

Patient and staff safety was also at the forefront in La Loche last month when three men smashed the front doors of the emergency department with baseball bats and machetes, then chased family members of a patient being treated at the hospital out the back door. No one was injured at the health centre and the suspects were later arrested.

“Something will need to be done eventually in La Loche,” Britton said. “At the very least, I think we’ve got good dialogue going.”

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