Unions Revive Push on Safety at Psychiatric Hospitals

July 6, 2011

By Paresh Dave, pdave@sacbee.com


A coalition of state hospital workers’ unions today is reviving its call for the state to address safety concerns at Department of Mental Health hospitals.

Four labor unions joined together to form the Safety Now! Coalition after the death of hospital psychiatric technician Donna Gross in October. They staged a protest in March outside the Napa facility where Gross died. This morning, the group is scheduled to protest outside Metropolitan State Hospital in Norwalk, saying that safety measures need to be put in place to protect workers and patients at all five state hospitals.  

“DMH has done little to improve safety in its Napa facility,” the group said in a press release. “But DMH has done even less to improve safety in its four other mental hospitals, despite the fact that several, including Metropolitan State Hospital, share Napa’s high rate of violent assaults.”

The latest protest comes after a Metropolitan nurse was assaulted by a patient last week and had to be transported to a nearby hospital, according to the group.

Several measures intended to put more safety precautions in place (Assembly Bill 366, Assembly Bill 1114, Senate Bill 60 and Senate Bill 796) are still pending. The coalition also wants to see increased staffing levels at the facilities, including more hospital police officers.

The coalition includes the American Federation of State County & Municipal Employees (AFSCME Local 2620), Service Employees International Union (SEIU 1000), the California Association of Psychiatric Technicians (CAPT) and the Union of America Physicians & Dentists (UAPD).

The California Division of Occupational Safety fined Napa State Hospital more than $100,000 for lax safety measures in the wake of Gross’ death. The hospital is appealing the fine. Metropolitan State Hospital is appealing a similar fine of nearly $10,000. The citation said 42 hospital workers suffered assaults in the first three months of this year — a rate of about one assault every other day.

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