Prince Rupert hospital locked down, man arrested following threats to health care workers

A 51-year-old Prince Rupert man was arrested and subsequently released on conditions after allegedly making threats against health care workers last week.

On Oct. 25, health services administrator Julia Pemberton received a report about a man threatening Northern Health staff members and called the RCMP around 12 p.m.

Police responded quickly and efficiently and opened their own investigation within six minutes of being notified, Pemberton said.

Due to the seriousness and nature of the threats, police apprehended the man, wrote Cst. Gabriel Gravel, media relations officer for the Prince Rupert RCMP detachment in an email to The Northern View.

“The man was brought to P.R. Regional Hospital to be assessed by a medical doctor, but was ultimately not committed,” Gravel stated.

However, police did keep him detained while they executed a search warrant on his house.

“Firearms, ammunition and other weapons including prohibited ones were seized as a result,” Gravel stated.

The RCMP will be recommending charges of uttering threats, careless storage of a firearm and possession of a prohibited weapon to the B.C. prosecution service for approval.

Meanwhile, the man was released on an undertaking with protective conditions, which the RCMP will not release at this time. He will be required to appear in court later this month.

Northern Health also put their own security procedures in place. Within an hour of the incident, the health authority had set up controlled access at the Prince Rupert Regional Hospital, Acropolis Manor and the Community Health Unit.

In a memo obtained by The Northern View that was sent to health care staff on the day of the incident, Northern Health stated additional security measures were put in place “out of an abundance of caution” and the risk for targeted violence was low.

At the P.R. Regional Hospital, access to the main part of the hospital was locked including the door to the emergency room and the loading dock doors. Staff members were advised not to enter or exit the hospital unnecessarily during their shift and to sign out and carry a code white pendant if working alone.

Colour codes are used in hospitals to communicate emergency situations to staff. In B.C. hospitals, a code white is used for aggression.

The memo stated that at Acropolis Manor and the health unit, all doors had been locked and only people approved by a screener or a designate would be let in.

There will continue to be enhanced security at the community health unit during public vaccine clinics and the hospital for the next two weeks, Pemberton said on Oct. 31. Northern Health was not asked by the RCMP to add these prolonged measures but they chose to keep them in place as an act of added caution.

The P.R. Regional Hospital has had a security member from Paladin Security at the hospital for several months, Pemberton said.

“Our normal baseline is one security member and what we’ve done for the next two weeks, just again out of an abundance of caution, is just to have two security members on site, which just allows us to have a greater presence which helps reassure the staff.”

Pemberton said she is seeing an “unsettling trend” of increased targeted violence against health care workers.

“We face a lot of patients who are just very aggressive with our staff, which is really unfortunate. It really takes a toll on staff who have worked very hard for the last two and a half years, so to be on the receiving end of that is just not what I would want any of our staff to have to undergo after everything they’ve been through.”

Coincidentally, the B.C. Ministry of Health recently announced a new program for 26 healthcare facilities, including P.R. Regional Hospital, to fund a “relational security model.”

“The new model ensures all security personnel have an acute awareness of patients and their surroundings, as well as how to anticipate, de-escalate and ultimately prevent aggression,” stated a press release from the ministry.

The new security guards will not replace the current contracted guards, but will be added.

Despite the increased security, residents should not hesitate to access health care services, Pemberton said. People may notice some small changes at the entry and access points for screening but it is completely safe to enter.

Kaitlyn Bailey, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Prince Rupert Northern View