Now that the dust has settled, a closer look at the “Code White” incident at the Pine Falls Health Centre

IERHA CEO Ron Van Denakker (file photo)

By Don Norman
Now that the dust has settled on the Code White incident at the Pine Falls Health Centre earlier this month, we have a final analysis of the events that took place.
On Friday, April 6, an incident at the Pine Falls Hospital caused the facility to announce a “code white” that caused the hospital, the Clinic, the Emergency room and the Sunnywood Manor to be shut down.

There had been some confusion surrounding the involvement of the RCMP. There were discrepancies between what other media was reporting and what the IERHA was saying. Initially, Media Relations reported that the case was closed. But we later spoke to Paul Manaigre, Media Relations, D-Division RCMP and he cleared up what happened.
Firstly, he clarified that the alleged threat was off site and second hand. “The gentleman wasn’t at the hospital. He said something to someone who passed it on to the Health Authority,” said Manaigre. The Powerview RCMP then spoke to the suspect who had allegedly made the threat and they denied it. Manaigre also said that there is a connection to drugs, but wouldn’t be more specific.

On Friday, April 6, Manaigre had been telling media that the case was closed. He explained that because of doctor-patient confidentiality, the doctor who was allegedly threatened refused to make a statement. “At that point, we had nothing left to investigate,” said Manaigre. However, he said that he has since learned that Powerview is going to attempt to speak the doctor and are still investigating the incident. But he did say that unless the doctor tells them something they have no case.

Since that time, the Advocate spoke to IERHA CEO, Ron Van Denakker regarding events of the day and the subsequent actions of the Health Authority.

“There were threats to our staff that were of significant nature,” said Van Denakker. “The staff that were threatened were very scared. We started to make all the necessary arrangements to make sure the staff was safe. If I don’t have safe staff, I don’t have staff.”
He said understood that there was a discrepancy as to whether or not it was an actual threat or an alleged threat. “But my staff was telling me they were threatened,” he said. “I know the RCMP are doing their due diligence and I’m not going to question that. Safety to the staff and community is my absolute number one priority. We needed to make sure that we put all the immediate measures in place,” he said, “So by having on site security allowed me to start to provide some basic services at the clinic.”

Van Denakker emphasized that he is always going to err on the side of caution. “We went back into a single point of entry – the emergency department with security services. Anything that would be life-threatening would be still under control,” he explained. “We were making sure that our sites at Beausejour and Pinawa had the capacity to take the ambulance diversion. Then we had to talk people down from the edge in terms of trying to understand the story and working with the RCMP off the bat. It was taking some time to tease out what the actual threat was and how realistic it was.”

He said that one of the reasons that he had to shut down the service was because he didn’t have the people to deliver the service. “The RCMP was supportive of (staff) leaving the site and going to safety because they were really scared,” he stressed.

When asked if he thought that the IERHA was being too tight-lipped about releasing information to the community, he noted that they had been releasing information to the local municipalities and to the Sagkeeng band office. But he said he thought it would have been unrealistic to think that the Health Authority would be able to give the public minute by minute updates. “We were meeting 3 times a day. I think there has to be some trust in the decisions that we are making to make sure that staff are safe,” he said.
He did say that if he could have done something differently, he would have kept the local media in the loop more effectively. “I think that sometimes we don’t engage with our local media fast enough,” he said.

But he pointed out that the reason he wants to make sure staff are safe is to give them the confidence to come to work. “So I’m calling in at every shift change to make sure that staff have showed up. We didn’t have anyone call in sick during that whole time. People knew exactly what to do and slowly, but surely we began to open up services.”

Van Denakker says that he’s confident that a crisis like this will never happen again because of the additional projects and measures that now have been put in place. But that’s not the end of it. He said that in addition to beefing up security, the Health Authority is committed to working on the addictions side and opiate replacement therapies. “We have to get after this awful, awful drug because it’s making people really stupid,” he said. “We are looking at integrating what we’re doing with the work that the town is doing in addition to the work that the First Nations are doing so that we have a cohesive, integrated community safety strategy in place.”