CODE BLACK: Dalby Hospital's hidden secret
STAFF unrest at Dalby Hospital is at boiling point as nurses fear for their personal safety every time they walk through the front doors.
In an exclusive interview with the Dalby Herald, Steven Conn, a clinical nurse specialist at the hospital, said he risked losing his job for speaking out, but had been left with no choice.
He said nurses at the hospital lived with a very reasonable fear of personal harm on a shift- to-shift basis due to the alarming increase in mental health issues, gun ownership, and the use of illicit drugs.
"We've had people with drug-induced psychosis biting nurses, threatening all sorts of violence," he said.
"Workplace health and safety policy is based on preventing the reasonably foreseeable; it is only a matter of time before a health care worker is seriously harmed at Dalby Hospital."
Mr Conn said he had approached the Darling Downs Hospital and Health Service on multiple occasions to ask for increased security measures, but he believes his pleas have fallen on deaf ears.
"Their common view is that a security guard would not help the situation," he said.
"I'm a healthcare professional, my job is to provide healthcare to the people that present to the hospital, my job is not security.
"They say 'we are doing this' and 'we are developing committees to look at that', but it's amounting to nothing.
"The urgency they've dealt with this is really poor and hard to understand."
A recent incident was the final straw for the 41-year-old.
Mr Conn said was working at the hospital on Wednesday, August 8, around 10.30pm when a highly intoxicated male approached the entrance doors.
"The man was carrying a scantily dressed infant," Mr Conn said.
"I couldn't get any sense out of him trying to communicate through the intercom, so I went out to see what assistance I could offer and whether he needed medical attention himself or for his child.
"I knew straight away that he was intoxicated, lethally intoxicated.
"I backed through the closest swipe card door I could find and then he just lost control.
"Whilst holding the infant he was able to completely shatter a nine or 10 foot security glass door.
"The force he applied on that door; I was less than two seconds away from receiving that force to my head."
Mr Conn said the response from Dalby Police was excellent, as they arrived soon after and apprehended the man.
Mr Conn, a father-of-two, said due to an inability to supply the CCTV footage to police, the officers didn't have enough evidence to hold him and the man was released around 6am the next morning.
Mr Conn said the man returned to the hospital clutching a shirt to his chest, which "appeared quite reasonably to be concealing a weapon."
Dalby Police returned to the hospital and arrested the man once again. At 9am hospital staff were able to give police CCTV footage.
"No one could access that vital CCTV footage, an onsite security guard would have been able to do that immediately," Mr Conn said.
Mr Conn said he had been told by DDHHS "the number of Code Blacks don't reflect his safety concerns", and as a result a security guard is not warranted.
A Code Black is a Queensland Health signal for a personal threat to safety.
Mr Conn said there had been a drastic rise in Code Black-incidents recently, but reporting them relies on "overworked" staff to fill out an online incident report form.
"The ability of the staff to accurately attend to the incident reporting system is really difficult, a full report takes 30-40 minutes to do," he said.
"Because of exhausting shift hours, those reports aren't being done.
"Relying on data generated by floor staff is irresponsible and it's archaic.
"The numbers are inaccurate because they rely on staff to report.
"There's heaps of young nurses there with lots of motivation and talent, but there is no regard for their safety.
"It makes me resent the system I work in. This archaic way of reporting statistics only supports one thing, and that's their bucket of money."
Mr Conn said he had called on DDHHS to utilise police statistics as he believed they would be far more accurate.
Jamie*, a fellow nurse in the Dalby Hospital emergency department, backed Mr Conn's statements.
"Security is really non-existent," Jamie said.
"When you first start there you're not even taught how to deal with threats or violent incidents.
"I've worked there for quite a while now and it was only at the end of last year that I went to my first occupational violence seminar... Before that I had nothing.
"It's been brought up at meetings multiple times and they've said 'we are getting this' or 'we are getting that', but nothing has changed.
"They don't value our safety or the safety of the people we look after."
Jamie said there had been numerous situations where people under the influence of a substance would try to physically harm them, scream verbal abuse or try to grab a needle and stab them.
"You get anxious about it, especially night shifts and on weekends when there's not as many people around," Jamie said.
"I know it probably affects my family more than me, because I come home and I talk about that sort of thing because it's not great to keep it to yourself.
"A lot of the nurses have young children, the last thing you want to do is go home and explain to them why you have a black eye or 'why mummy or daddy has a broken arm'.
"Then you have to justify to yourself why you keep going back to that situation when nothing is going to change.
"For heaven's sake, the bloody boarding campus (Dalby State High School Bunya Campus) has security at night time and we don't."
Alex* is an another nurse at the hospital disgruntled by the lack of action from DDHHS.
"Eleven staff have left in the last year-and-a-half because they are fed up with management... they don't do anything when they're approached with issues," Alex said.
"It's a crock of s---. They say 'we've got the breastscreen bus coming' and 'look at us, look at what we're doing for the community'. Bull---t, look at the nurses you've got and look at how many have left because there is no security."
"None are game to speak up because they're to sacred too lose their job.
"The whole thing from the top down needs to be looked into."
Alex, who has been "assaulted that many times it's not funny", said 90 per cent of the assaults in the hospital were drug related.
"A staff member was attacked by a drug-crazed, alcohol fuelled teen.
"The victim was bitten, kicked, scratched, spat on and verbally assaulted.
"They ended up with an infected hand because they had to have a blood test to make sure they didn't have any infections.
"We shouldn't go out there thinking we have to be Chuck Norris."
* Names changed for confidentiality purposes.
Darling Downs Hospital and Health Service responds
THE following statement was received from Darling Downs Hospital and Health Service director of nursing western Tracey Morgan following an inquiry into the situation by the Dalby Herald.
"Darling Downs Hospital and Health Service has a zero-tolerance approach to occupational violence and is committed to an occupational violence prevention policy," Ms Morgan said.
"As part of this policy, all clinical staff are trained in the prevention of occupational violence, and how to manage incidents if they arise.
"'Code Black' is a term that describes aggressive behaviour, and encompasses behaviour from patients (who may be unwell or delirious) or visitors. We have had one recorded 'Code Black' involving a visitor in the last 12 months.
"There are several security measures currently in place at Dalby Hospital:
Patient Support Officers are rostered on after hours to do rounds of wards, check in with staff, make sure doors are locked, and report on any risks
Dalby Hospital is locked after hours, with people presenting to ED gaining access via a door release system which is operated remotely by staff.
Once people presenting to ED are admitted into the reception area, staff remain safely behind security doors.
A private security company located in Dalby is contracted to do rounds of the hospital after hours.
There are fixed duress alarms located throughout Dalby Hospital.
Staff assist buttons are located at all bedsides and in clinical areas. Once activated, these alarms resound throughout the hospital invoking an immediate response from hospital staff
Local police are on hand to respond to calls for assistance from staff.
"We have been approached by one staff member regarding their concerns about safety during night shift and we are currently taking steps to increase security measures in the following ways:
Staff issued with individual duress pendants, and if triggered, our local security contractor will attend.
More rounds undertaken by our local security contractor after hours.
We are installing a secondary, back-up door release system in ED.
"We have received positive feedback from staff regarding these increased security measures."