News

Sexual assault at hospital prompts review

A valley man is facing a charge of sexual assault after an 83-year-old local female patient was assaulted at Cowichan hospital, police say.

The 48-year-old suspect in custody is to appear in Duncan court Feb. 14 to answer to the charge stemming from the pre-Christmas attack that’s shocked medical officials. The suspect can’t be named until charges are approved by the Crown, said Cpl. Greg Pask of the North Cowichan/Duncan RCMP.

The senior woman’s assault immediately sparked a sweeping island-wide policy review of mixed-gender patient rooms, a Vancouver Island Health Authority agent explained.

Elin Bjarnason declined to comment about the CDH case specifically, but confirmed a Jan. 3 Times Colonist story explaining the senior female with dementia resided in a four-bed room with two men when she was assaulted.

“We’re shocked at this incident and we feel horrible,” she told the News Leader Pictorial. “All patients in mixed-gender rooms in VIHA (facilities) were reviewed.

“We’re not waiting to implement new (room) criteria — we’re doing it as of the day this happened.”

Policies being formalized will require patients in semi-private rooms, with two beds, to be the same gender. Efforts will happen to separate men and women in three-and four-bed rooms.

When mixed rooms are necessary, there’ll be a minimum of two women per room, VIHA brass said. Patients in mixed-gender rooms must also be alert, mentally competent, and able to vocalize concerns, the policies say.

Patients with violent or mental-health issues — or a history of inappropriate sexual behaviour — will not be placed in mix-gender rooms. Bjarnason agreed VIHA’s new room rules would have prevented the assault at CDH.

“We need to be diligent to minimize mixed-gender rooms,” she said.

CDH has had a chronic bed shortage for decades, but CDH staff “tries to place appropriate gender patients together.”

“There’s not a simple solution,” Bjarnason said of the room crunch at the busy 112-bed hospital under a massive site review by VIHA.

Len Roy, CDH’s top doc, stressed the assault was the first he’s heard of at CDH, and hoped gender-segregated rooms, or private rooms, are included in a new CDH being designed.

“In our proposed hospital, there’s about 85 per cent private rooms,” he said, compared to about 20 per cent private rooms at CDH now.

Assaults aside, multi-gender rooms can also spell infection, hygiene and privacy issues, Roy noted.

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