Just-Signed Legislation Helps Strengthen Safety in California State Hospitals

Just-Signed Legislation Helps Strengthen Safety in California State Hospitals

<0> Safety Now CoalitionZach Hatton, 707-953-7767Linda Monahan, 707-266-4545Brady Oppenheim, 916-952-9961 </0>

Governor Jerry Brown has signed urgently needed legislation aimed at increasing safety and services - and decreasing violence and assaults - in California’s five state hospitals:

Another bill, Assembly Bill 2144 by Asm. Mariko Yamada, failed to reach the governor’s desk due to legislators’ cost concerns. The bill would have increased state hospitals’ minimum staff-to-patient ratios: a major direct-care improvement that employees continue to say is key to safety.

State-hospital professionals shared personal stories of their own assaults and called for the bills’ passage at recent rallies and State Capitol hearings, where they noted that, according to California Department of State Hospitals data, aggressive acts in these forensic facilities are on the rise: In 2012 alone, there were 3,149 violent patient acts against staff and 3,914 violent acts upon other patients. In addition, several violent incidents have happened in state hospitals in just the past few months, including the May 28 murder of an ASH patient by a peer as well as a May 24 sexual assault on an NSH psychiatric technician, a May 27 battery on a psychologist, a May 30 beating of a social worker and a severe June 4 assault on an NSH patient.

"The minority of individuals are causing the majority of assaults, and we need to protect all our patients plus ourselves while providing medical and mental-health services," said Zach Hatton, a Napa State Hospital recreational therapist and facility chief steward for AFSCME Local 2620 who himself was recently assaulted. "These signed bills give us some important tools to help our state hospitals."

The governor’s signatures on these bills come a few weeks before the four-year anniversary of the Oct. 23, 2010, murder of Napa State Hospital psychiatric technician Donna Gross, who was killed by an NSH patient in an outdoor area where NSH employees’ electronic crisis alarms did not work. As they have since the tragedy, state-hospital employees will mark the date with solemn statewide remembrances and continued safety pledges.

"The collaborative changes taking place in our state hospitals are Donna’s living legacy," said NSH psychiatric technician Linda Monahan, who also is the Napa Chapter president of the California Association of Psychiatric Technicians. "Even with all of the improvements we’ve made so far – new personal alarm systems, grounds-patrol teams, hospital-police increases and now these four bills – our work in her memory is never done, and we remain committed to change for all those living and working in our state-hospital system."