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Staff at Island hospital exposed to illicit drug smoke: Island Health

Island Health acknowledges challenges staff face when patients use illegal substances in a hospital

Patients consuming illegal substances have exposed Campbell River hospital staff to harmful smoke but Island Health says it has implemented safety measures to deal with the problem.

“There have been instances where staff in our hospitals, including at North Island Hospital – Campbell River, have been exposed to smoke from a substance,” Island Health says in a statement made in response to a request for information from the Campbell River Mirror.

Smoking any substance is not permitted within any Island Health hospital, the Island Health statement says.

“However, Island Health recognizes and acknowledges the challenges our staff face when some patients choose to use unregulated substances within a hospital in a way that violates the policies and care planning put in place to protect everyone.”

The issue came to light recently during the Campbell River city council meeting on Thursday, Feb. 29 when a delegation appeared before council objecting to the provincial government’s Health Professions and Occupations Act (Bill 36) and sought the city’s support against it. During that appearance before council, physician and B.C. Conservative Party candidate Dr. Anna Kindy also offered anecdotes designed to illustrate problems with the healthcare system that lead to workers leaving the system and the province and a “culture of censorship.”

“So, for example, I’m going to go back to the sort of policies that are enabling this to happen in the hospital,” Kindy said. “So a patient can be smoking crack or fentanyl in a room.”

Kindy didn’t give a time frame but said three healthcare workers were sent to emergency because they were exposed to the smoke of the crack and the fentanyl.

“And what was the response?” she asked rhetorically. “When they went to the to the administrators? Did it go higher up? And do we need to change policies? No, it stayed local. And their response was literally to bring a gas mask for nurses to wear.”

Meanwhile, if you smoke cigarettes in the hospital “they will call security, and they will confiscate your cigarettes, and you’ll be in trouble.”

READ MORE: Delegation seeks city’s support against ‘unprecedented’ health legislation

Island Health reaffirmed that smoking cigarettes or any substance is not permitted within any Island Health hospital. But the statement also says that, “To be clear - at no point are staff directed to or asked to wear or bring a ‘gas mask.’”

Island Health says that as per the organization’s management plans and consistent with WorkSafeBC standards to protect all workers from any type of smoke, staff “are trained to wear a full face respirator during an interaction with a patient when smoke or vapour is present.”

In this kind of situation, Island Health is balancing two objectives, “ensuring the safety of staff, medical staff, patients and visitors” as a top priority while also “ensuring all people are treated with respect and dignity and patients who use unregulated substances receive equitable and accessible care that is free from stigma and judgement.”

“Island Health is committed to enhancing care and connection to health services for our community members, particularly in the face of the enduring toxic drug crisis,” Island Health says. “People who use substances face multiple barriers to accessing programs and services; these barriers limit their opportunities to connect with service providers, whether for harm reduction supports or to learn about treatment and recovery options.

“That is why we have undertaken significant work across the organization in recent months focused on providing staff with training and resources.”

In addition, “Island Health has developed and implemented specific education and training modules related to mitigating exposure to unregulated substances, and delivering harm reduction and clinical care for patients using unregulated substances. This training has been completed by more than 5,300 employees, representing more than 90 per cent of employees required to participate. The training is also mandatory for all new hires.”

READ MORE: In-demand harm reduction supplies coming 24/7 outside 3 Island hospitals

Alistair Taylor

About the Author: Alistair Taylor

I have been editor of the Campbell River Mirror since 1989. Our team takes great pride in serving our community.
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