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In the Wake of Violent Attacks, AFSCME Members Rally for Hospital Safety

by Gonzala Baeza  |  February 03, 2011

Napa, CA – Faced with repeated episodes of violence against hospital staff and patients, 350 Napa State Hospital (NSH) employees, including numerous AFSCME members, rallied at the gates of the state mental hospital.

Amid chants of “What do we want? Safety! When do we want it? Now!” they delivered a clear message: The California Department of Mental Health must dramatically step up efforts to improve safety conditions, not only at NSH, but other DMH hospitals across the state.

According to the New York Times, there were 1,580 crimes reported at NSH in 2009 – including more than 1,200 batteries – but few of these were ever prosecuted. Furthermore, over the past two years there were 224 instances in which injuries by patient assaults caused hospital staff to miss days of work.

“The safety of our staff and of our patients is our number one concern,” said recreational therapist Zach Hatton, a member of AFSCME Local 2620 who attended the rally. “The outbreak of violence at NSH affects both employees and patients alike and is the direct result of insufficient resources and questionable leadership.”

The event was organized by the Safety Now! coalition, comprising AFSCME Local 2620, the Service Employees International Union Local 1000, the California Association of Psychiatric Technicians, and the Union of American Physicians and Dentists (UAPD, AFSCME Local 201). Safety Now! seeks to promote greater safety among California Department of Mental Health facilities.

The coalition was formed in the wake of two violent attacks on NSH employees. In late October, Napa State Hospital psychiatric technician Donna Gross was killed during a dinner break and her body found in an outdoor area at the facility. A patient is awaiting trial in connection to the crime. Less than two months later, another patient was arrested on suspicion of attacking rehabilitation therapist and Local 2620 member George Anderson, who was hospitalized for skull fractures.

“When you come to work, you should not have to fear for your life and your safety,” said AFSCME Council 57 Director George Popyack, who is also an AFSCME IVP. “It should be a given that all steps are taken to ensure that people are safe at work and that’s not happening here at Napa.”

Safety Now! members are working with elected officials to develop legislative solutions for the problems faced by DMH hospitals across the state. Some of the measures proposed include the creation of a high security unit for patients with a high potential for violence and increased staffing to ensure adequate assessment and supervision of patients. The latter recommendation is of critical importance considering California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) has proposed cutting social and human services to help reduce the state’s $26 billion budget deficit.

For more information, check out this video of the rally, including speeches from UAPD President Dr. Stuart Bussey and Corrine Weaver, a social worker and Local 2620 member.

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