Doctor speaks out on hospital meth horror

Tim EdmundsAlbany Advertiser
Albany Health Campus.
Camera IconAlbany Health Campus. Credit: Picture: Laurie Benson, Laurie Benson Albany Advertiser

An experienced emergency doctor has slammed a lack of security at Albany Health Campus, describing her exposure to methamphetamine-affected patients as “very unsafe” and worse than at Royal Perth Hospital.

Giving evidence to a State parliamentary committee, Dr Jessamine Soderstrom detailed her experiences of dealing with meth-affected patients at RPH and Albany and pointed to inadequate security at the regional hospital.

Dr Soderstrom, who has 20 years of experience in emergency departments, said violence was “a given” in the hospital environment and it was not uncommon for doctors and nurses to be “punched, kicked, spat on and put in a headlock”.

But when asked by committee chairwoman Greens MP Alison Xamon if Dr Soderstrom knew about the situation at regional hospitals, the physician said she did not feel safe at Albany Health Campus.

“It’s terrible,” she said.

“I work in Albany Regional Hospital and I work in the high dependency unit there.

“The situation — I can only speak about Albany as that is where I work — but the situation is much worse.

“At Royal Perth I am very privileged because at one time if I have a patient who is aggressive, I have six burly security guards next to me.

“I have six burly security guards behind me and (they) are well trained and able to protect me and we can physically restrain a patient so we can chemically sedate them to keep them safe.

“In Albany there are two.

“When they are sedated they get put in a high dependency unit where there are two nurses and it’s very unsafe.

“The security guards come from outside (the hospital) and they are not allowed to touch patients.”

Dr Jessamine Soderstrom.
Camera IconDr Jessamine Soderstrom. Credit: The West Australian, Steve Ferrier The West Australian.

Responding to Dr Soderstrom’s evidence, WA Country Health Service regional director Geraldine Ennis said security at Albany Health Campus was present seven days a week and was comparable to other regional hospitals.

Ms Ennis said staff in the Great Southern also had access to training to manage violence and aggression.

“Our frontline staff deserve to feel safe and secure as they care for people at their time of need,” she said.

“While instances of aggression and violence at Albany Health Campus remain minimal, one occurrence is one too many.”

Ms Ennis said WACHS placed a particular emphasis on early intervention and encouraged staff to call a “code black” as soon as a risk was perceived. She said as a result, the majority of incidents were de-escalated and involved no physical violence.

Dr Soderstrom told the committee it was part of emergency department training for junior medical staff to learn to verbally reduce escalation and also to treat patients with respect.

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