Editorial – Code What?

No Entry sign at the Pine Falls Emergency door on Friday April 6.

Many Unanswered Questions in Pine Falls’ “Code White” crisis

By Don Norman
The recent closure of the Pine Falls Health Centre because of an act of aggression at the facility has left a lot of people (including this newspaper) guessing about what exactly happened last Friday.

The “Code White” was almost certainly a serious affair that required special attention to clear the risk. But I unfortunately have to qualify that statement with “almost.” I’m not going to be overly critical of the IERHA in the way they dealt with it, simply because we don’t know. But for locals, closing down the local hospital is a very serious measure. Patients need the care they receive there. We have some of the highest rates of diabetes in the province. There is a dialysis unit there that people rely on. I saw one of them turned away on Friday.

I have worked both sides of the fence in media. I know how difficult it can be to try to manage the message that gets out in a crisis. It’s further complicated by the fact that there was a crime committed and an ongoing investigation. I also know the people in public relations at IERHA and they are good at what they do. Nevertheless, something strikes me as off in the way the IERHA dealt with this incident.

While the safety of the staff at the hospital is paramount, very high (if not next) on the list of priorities should have been letting the public know what was happening and why their hospital was being closed down. Granted, the incident happened at 10:00am and by 3pm, CEO Ron Van Denakker had released a statement announcing the “containment” and closure of the facility and that no patients were being seen. But still… Why?

On March 21, someone concealing a knife came into the hospital. Staff called police, police sorted out and that was that. So this situation was clearly worse than that. But all I got from the IERHA was, “it has been an exceptionally long period of service suspension due to a code white.”

So, we are left to wonder “how much worse?” Well, it wasn’t a bomb threat or a hostage taking – there are other codes for those crises. They said to me that the threat came from outside and the containment was put in place to make sure that the threat didn’t come inside. So, did someone phone in a threat? If so, is there someone dangerous still on the loose in the community? Did the RCMP apprehend them? When I called the RCMP, they told me to call IERHA.

And when I went to the facility at around 11:30, there was one RCMP truck parked in the parking lot. No police tape. There didn’t appear to be a man-hunt going on. It looked like business as usual except for the “Do Not Enter” signs. Yet the “containment” went on for 4 and a half days (and as far as I’ve heard to this moment, the emergency is still closed). But presumably now, the threat is contained. I guess.

The more cynical of us might be thinking this wasn’t really a public safety issue after all. That it was a human resource issue. I hope this is not the case. Because I wouldn’t be devoting all these column inches to a staffing issue. It sucks, but we are used to under-staffing issues at the hospital. People would understand.

The IERHA needs to be more transparent and open. People should not be left with so many questions.

I really do hope there is a good reason for keeping us in the dark, but I can’t think of one.