The Ontario Nurses’ Association is warning of more violence in the workplace as the Royal Ottawa Health Care Group cuts the number of Registered Nurses on staff both in Ottawa and Brockville.

The Royal says it is part of a review of the skills needed to deal with the complex needs of its patients.

The Royal has had some issues with violence in the workplace before given the kind of patients it sees.

But the unions warn these changes will put frontline workers in even more danger.

The changes are being made to the Forensic units at both the Ottawa and Brockville sites where nurses say they are dealing with some of the toughest mental health cases.

The hospital says there will be a reduction of 14.1 full time equivalent (FTE) positions, comprised of 4.8 registered nurses (RNs) and 1.4 orderlies in Ottawa and 7.9 RNs in Brockville.  But the Royal says it is increasing the number of registered practical nurses (RPNs) by 18 FTEs, with 7 RPNs in Ottawa and 11 RPNs in Brockville.

The registered nurses who spoke to CTV on the condition of anonymity say they are worried about these changes, given they are dealing with the “sickest of the sick” in mental health.  And they believe that the registered practical nurses don't have the same mental health training they do.

“We've had some serious incidents at our hospital,” says Marlene Rivier, the President of OPSEU Local 479 at the Royal Ottawa Hospital.

She says workplace safety has already been an issue at the Royal and that these changes will make it worse.

“We know health care is at the top of the list of occupations when experiencing violence in the workplace,” she says, “and we know those numbers are climbing.”

Frances ShapiroMunn says her client knows too well about those risks.  Nabute Ghebrehiwet is suing the Royal Ottawa and one of its doctors after he was attacked with a hammer by a man who had been released two months earlier from the Royal. 

“This is a man who lost his eyesight in one eye; he had lots of damage and will continue to have health care costs moving forward. We have questions about what happened, what got us here.”

The Ontario Association of Nurses says patients at the Royal can be unpredictable; that more registered nurses are needed, not less.

“Registered practical nurses, absolutely we need them in the system,” says Vicki McKenna, the First Vice-President of the Ontario Nurses’ Association, “but not where the conditions and the needs of patients are unpredictable.  We need registered nurses at the beside for those people.”

No one from the Royal was available for an interview but in a statement said,

“Our clients…are a vulnerable population and they often come to us in very difficult circumstances. That is why all clinical staff (which includes both RNs and RPNs) receive the same safety training."

The changes are supposed to effect this spring.  The unions say they will do what they can to stop that from happening.