The health services union is pushing for more psychiatric intensive care units around the state to address long-standing issues after a recent violent incident in the psychiatric ward at Latrobe Regional Hospital highlighted the need.
The Health and Community Services Union is also calling for more funding for mental health staff to be protected against aggressive patients.
The call follows an incident at the LRH Flynn High Dependency Assessment Unit on Wednesday, July 25, where police called the Critical Incident Response Team from Melbourne and the dog squad in response to a highly-volatile patient.
HACSU Gippsland area organiser John Creamer said unions understood the man had a history of mental illness.
It is understood nurses and other patients barricaded themselves into locked rooms before they were evacuated.
"I've been working in mental health for a long time and these situations are frightening," Mr Creamer said.
"You could not expect staff to come out and talk to him – it's scary for everyone. Police are not mental health workers. Their training is limited."
Mr Creamer said there were only 31 beds in the Flynn unit which services all of Gippsland and only six high dependency assessment unit beds.
"This is not a good recipe when we have more levels of aggression and people coming in with a criminal history. It is not conducive to a safe workplace or for people to recover from mental illness," Mr Creamer said.
"This is an issue made particularly more difficult when these incidents occur in the regions where there is a lack of staff and security."
HACSU assistant state secretary Paul Healy said there was a strong focus on protecting frontline health care workers such as paramedics and emergency departments staff from violence but there was little emphasis on mental health nurses.
"The two main things we want are better investment in staffing and a diversity of beds to separate the more difficult patients," he said.
"We want a psychiatric intensive care unit in Gippsland with higher staff profiles and more security."
Latrobe Regional Hospital chief executive Peter Craighead said violence and aggression towards staff was an ongoing health and safety issue.
He said LRH was upgrading CCTV cameras and installing a mobile duress system to provide further security and support for staff.
"It's important our staff are well trained and educated about aggressive behaviour which may lead to violence no matter where they work at LRH. Our commitment to this is ongoing," he said.
Health Minister Martin Foley said the Victorian government had invested a record $657 million in mental health services in the latest state budget.
"Mental health staff do an amazing job in what can be challenging circumstances," Mr Foley said.
"Since 2014 we have invested an additional $9.7 million in Latrobe Regional Hospital - funding six new intensive care area beds and additional safety and security measures such as duress alarms and CCTV.
"We have also introduced the Safewards mode which has been highly effective in reducing conflict within inpatient units including at Latrobe Regional Hospital."