Occupational Health News Roundup

Deborah Sontag’s New York Times story about the murder of 25-year-old mental health worker Stephanie Moulton, allegedly at the hands of schizophrenic patient DeShawn Chappell, is a moving exploration of two grieving families and the many challenges facing the mental health care system.

Deborah Sontag’s New York Times story about the murder of 25-year-old mental health worker Stephanie Moulton, allegedly at the hands of schizophrenic patient Deshawn Chappell, is a moving exploration of two grieving families and the many challenges facing the mental health care system in Massachusetts and across the country. Sontag writes:

The “shattering event,” as one former state mental health official called it, occurred days before Gov. Deval Patrick, a Democrat, released his proposed budget, which would slash mental health spending for the third year in a row. And it raised the timely but uncomfortable question of whether such continuous belt-tightening had played a role in Ms. Moulton’s death.

Many people wondered aloud whether the system had failed both the suspect and the victim. How had Ms. Moulton ended up alone in a home with a psychotic man who had a history of violence and was off his medication? How had Mr. Chappell been allowed to deteriorate without setting off alarms? Should he have still been living in a group home, or did he need the tighter supervision of a hospital?

“People are reeling right now,” Dr. Kenneth Duckworth, a former medical director for the State Department of Mental Health, said after the killing. “Will this case be the canary in the coal mine? Will it signal that we’ve gone too far in reducing client-staff ratios, in closing hospitals, in pushing independence for people who may still be too sick?”

…State mental health departments, serving vulnerable populations with little political clout, almost always get disproportionately squeezed during tough times. During the current fiscal crisis, many states have sharply reduced both inpatient and community-based mental health care.

Sontag reports that Massachusetts has closed a state hospital, laid off one-fourth of its case workers, and transferred mentally ill patients to younger, lower-paid workers employed by private companies. Stephanie Moulton likely got “at least a week’s training.” Deshawn Chappell’s mother, Yvette Chappell, told Sontag that Moulton listened to the concerns she voiced about her son being off his antipsychotic medication and promised “to get Deshawn back on track.”

In other news:

Washington Examiner: In the US, when a maid, nanny, or other domestic employee reports being abused by an employer and an investigation supports the allegations, officials will usually press charges against the employer – unless that employer is a high-level foreign official with diplomatic immunity.

Globe and Mail: Tens of thousands of migrant workers who labored in South African gold mines during apartheid developed silicosis and tuberculosis, and many fear they’ll die before their case against mining company Anglo American is resolved.

Charleston Gazette: The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has issued several citations (one willful and 16 serious) in the case of the AL Solutions Inc. recycling plant in New Cumberland, WV, where an explosion killed three workers in December. OSHA investigators found that the plant had combustible materials stored near open flame and inadequate systems for detecting flammable gases and suppressing fires.

AFP: After dozens of employees fainted at a Cambodian factory that supplies products to sportswear giant Puma, an independent investigation blamed the unwellness of 101 factory employees on the supplier’s failure to follow Puma’s standards on work hours and other elements of occupational safety and health.


New York Times Opinionator Blog
(Mark Bittman): In Florida, the Coalition of Immokalee workers has won improvements for tomato workers, including shade tents in break spots and reduced pesticide exposure. Several restaurant chains and food service operators have signed the agreement that specifies these improvements, but several large supermarket chains – including Kroger and Trader Joe’s – have so far refused to do so.

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