Providing Safer Care to Inpatients Struggling with Mental Health

Martina Nuttal
Martina Nuttal, who joined the Adult and Forensic Mental Health department in 2017, will help health care professionals on medical units look at potential hazards through the lens of a mental health nurse.

Mental health inpatient rooms look much different than your typical hospital room at the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre. They are made safer for patients who may be at a higher risk of hurting themselves and others. For example, there are no long cords, clothes hooks are all break-away, and we minimize easy to move objects in the room.

However, some patients struggling with their mental health may also have physical health issues that need to be treated in the ICU, surgical recovery, or some other medical unit in the hospital.

“We have many mental health off-service patients who cannot be moved to the mental health unit until their medical conditions have been addressed,” said Dr. Peter Voros, Director of Adult and Forensic Mental Health. “Nurses who are on those floors don’t usually have the same speciality training as a mental health nurse.”

The Adult Mental Health department identified steps that can be taken to improve care and make the environment safer. Dr. Voros and his team have updated the existing standard of care to provide specific guidance for health care professionals, particularly nurses, caring for off-service patients.

“The new policy gives specific direction in terms of what to do to make a patient’s room as safe as possible,” Dr. Voros said.

A large part of the initiative is simply to help nurses and other health care providers think about potential hazards in the room and within the unit. These include pull cords and the other items mentioned above as well as sharp items brought in and out of the room during the course of patient care (such as scissors for changing a dressing). Another consideration is that those who may be at higher risk need close monitoring.

“We are outlining how to look at the room and care for the patient through the lens of the mental health nurse,” he said.

Martina Nuttal, a new clinical nurse specialist (CNS) who started in the Adult and Forensic Mental Health department in May 2017, is developing an educational package for staff. It’s another way to support the staff, and in turn support the patients.

“We want to do everything we can to help keep patients and our staff safe,” Dr. Voros said.