A 49-year-old Duncan man has been sentenced to three months in jail for sexually assaulting an elderly dementia patient in a mixed-gender ward at Cowichan District Hospital.
The assault, which took place in December 2011, resulted in the Vancouver Island Health Authority changing its policy to strictly limit circumstances when patients can be placed in mixed-gender rooms.
Daniel Patrick Hill, who also pleaded guilty to two impaired driving charges, was sentenced to three months in jail and two years of probation.
The 83-year-old victim, who has since died, was in a four-bed room with two men when the assault took place. One of the male patients was Hill, who was known to have substance abuse problems.
Nursing staff were alerted to the assault when an intravenous alarm sounded.
Hill, whose pyjama bottoms were found on the woman’s pillow, was removed from the room and released from the hospital into police custody.
After articles about the assault ran in the Times Colonist, others came forward with allegations of assaults in mixed-gender rooms.
VIHA quickly came up with new guidelines, which have since become policy.
“Immediately after the incident, we put interim guidelines in place because it takes a while to develop a policy,” said health authority spokeswoman Suzanne Germain.
Under the new policy, semi-private rooms with two beds must be single gender. When mixing genders cannot be avoided in rooms with three or more beds, there must be a minimum of two women in the room.
All patients in mixed rooms must be alert, mentally competent and physically able to summon assistance.
Patients who pose a risk to others because of a history of violent or inappropriate behaviour must not be placed in shared accommodation.
Germain said she is not aware of any further incidents resulting from mixed-gender rooms since the new rules were put in place.
“But we don’t lock people in their rooms, and, if people are ambulatory, they are free to get up and wander around. When you are dealing with a confused population, sometimes they wander into someone else’s room,” she said.
Everything possible is done to minimize the risk to patients, but it is difficult to guarantee 100 per cent safety anywhere, whether a shopping mall or a hospital, Germain said.
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