‘I was worried that he would stab me to death’, mental health facility worker’s assault sparks high-powered response

Tearful employee speaks about severe staff shortages, violence and unhygienic conditions at Bridge of Rehabilitation centre, which is being stripped of its licence

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 22 October, 2016, 9:04am
UPDATED : Saturday, 22 October, 2016, 10:22am

A heavy blow to the back of Apple Law’s head knocked the health worker down last week and almost left her unconscious.

When she was sprawling helpless on the floor, “I was worried that he would stab me to death,” Law recalled.

It may sound as if the woman is describing a robbery – but it was not.

It was an attack by a resident of a care centre that has been much in the news over the past few days.

In an emotional interview with the Post, Law – a health worker at the controversial Bridge of Rehabilitation care home – recounted how she had to fear for her own safety in a nursing facility with a hostile work environment arising from a staff shortage and a lack of professional training.

Law, who had more than a decade of experience in the industry, is expected to meet government officials on Saturday alongside a string of lawmakers, including Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung, to discuss the situation at the care home.

The Social Welfare Department announced on Thursday that it was planning to revoke the licence of the Bridge of Rehabilitation facility, which houses mentally disabled people.

The news followed revelations that seven of the centre’s inmates had died over the past two years.

The care centre also made headlines last week as critics heaped pressure on the Department of Justice after it dropped charges against Cheung Kin-wah, the centre’s former superintendent who walked free from unlawful sex charges as the woman he allegedly molested – and who was under his care – was deemed unfit to testify.

Recounting the attack, Law, a woman in her early 40s who joined the centre in September last year, said she was up against a man around her age, who continued to kick her while she was lying on the floor.

But she said the other employee she was working with her that day – a new immigrant – did not know “how to call 999”.

The employee had to go down one floor to get the supervisor, who eventually called an ambulance after seeing Law.

Hong Kong minister pledges stronger rules after assault claims against former nursing home head

Staff shortages at the centre seem to be commonplace, with each shift usually having just one health worker, who takes care of medication and injections, and one care worker, who is in charge of providing inmates with daily help, Law said.

Law plus a care worker are normally all the centre has to look after 79 residents at the two-storey facility. There is also a home manager and a chef.

But according to the Residential Care Homes (Persons with Disabilities) Regulation, a medium-level care home like Bridge of Rehabilitation requires one care worker for every 40 and one health worker for every 60 residents.

“One time, I got in and saw one person in the pharmacy,” Law recalled of the only care worker at work that day. “She was packing up, getting ready to leave.”

Law recalled another incident when she had to pull away a resident bleeding from a fight after she heard a commotion in the common area.

She tried to stop the other party, only to find herself becoming the target. She got out of it after someone – either a resident or a colleague – stopped the attacking woman with a broomstick.

Social Workers’ General Union president Yip Kin-chung said the staff shortage was a wider issue, especially for the private centres which generally offered lower salaries and hence attracted mostly freshly arrived immigrants.

He said this could undermine the quality of staff, as new immigrants received little training, making private centres more prone to accidents.

Meanwhile, a lack of staff, Law suggested, might have contributed to the deaths of residents.

At least two were found to have choked on food, with Law saying the care worker and chef were usually too busy distributing food to pay attention to how residents were eating.

“If we had more people, how would things have come to this stage?” she said when asked about the 14-year-old who plunged to his death in August.

Hygiene was bad, Law added, and it was not uncommon to see cockroaches and rats.

Although she had never witnessed any bullying of residents by staff, she said her colleagues could have been more friendly towards those under their care.

But Law’s insistence on speaking out for residents has taken a toll on her and got her caught between a rock and a hard place.

Law has been receiving messages from those she used to look after, criticising her for possibly causing them to lose their place in the care home. “Why are they doing that to me?” Law said as her voice broke.

Law thought she could perhaps one day take over the centre if everyone left. But it would be just wishful thinking, she said, unless the government supported the centre financially.