Violent outbursts by Huntington disease patients are not unexpected and health-care staff must be adequately trained to deal with them, an advocate said.
Two patients with Huntington disease face assault charges stemming from separate incidents at Royal Inland Hospital's psychiatric ward and Hillside Centre, the tertiary psychiatric facility on the hospital grounds.
Two nursing unions have raised alarms about what they say is inadequate staffing levels for patients who may be dangerous.
"It's part of the disease — often part of any dementia," said Bev Heim-Myers, CEO of the Huntington Society of Canada.
"Violent behaviour can be part of it, with Alzheimer's too."
David Gray, 56, faces a single count of assault after an incident at Hillside Centre while Chad Neuendorf faces two assault charges following incidents at an RIH ward on Nov. 15 and 17.
Prosecutors already have an opinion from a psychiatrist that Neuendorf is not criminally responsible by reason of a mental disorder. But the court has yet to make that determination.
Authorities have struggled to house the two men in wake of the attacks. Gray was scheduled to be sent to a room at RIH, guarded by two corrections officers.
A provincial spokesman said Friday it cannot confirm Gray's arrangements due to privacy concerns.
"Awareness is a big thing," Heim-Myers said. "In many health-care facilities, health-care providers are not properly equipped because of lack of awareness."
She said patients are typically housed in long-term-care facilities, rather than psychiatric hospitals. Patients do not always exhibit violent behaviour.
Huntington disease is an inherited brain disorder. Symptoms typically appear in both men and women between the ages of 30 and 45. The degenerative disease causes brain cells to die. Symptoms include emotional turmoil and irritability.
In advanced stages, patients are largely rigid and require nursing. Death typically occurs 15 to 25 years after onset.
Heim-Myers said staff need to train in order to defuse situations where patients may become irritable or violent. She speculated that the holiday season, when staff are typically away on holidays, may have exacerbated the problem at Hillside Centre.
Both Gray and Neuendorf are scheduled to make court appearances in January.