Last year, psychiatric technician Donna Gross was killed on the job at Napa State Hospital, allegedly by a patient who had a pass that gave him unsupervised access to the grounds. In a two-part series, NPR's Ina Jaffe talks with staff, directors, and patients from two psychiatric hospitals, Napa State Hospital and Atascadero State Hospital, about patient violence.
Both hospitals treat mentally ill patients who arrive through the criminal justice system; Atascadero was designed from the start to treat mentally ill criminal offenders, while Napa had hardly any criminal commitments 20 years ago. Recently, Napa has eliminated the grounds passes like the one Grossman's alleged killer had, and California's Department of Mental Health has called a summit on safety issues at the state's psychiatric hospitals. But a scheduled meeting isn't enough for Napa employees, who recently held a demonstration demanding better safety measures. Jaffe interviewed several workers who were attack, and found statistics demonstrating why these employees are concerned:
According to a report mandated by the federal government, patients at Napa committed 75 physically aggressive acts against staff in a single six-month period ending in early 2009. In the same period one year later, there were nearly four times as many assaults. The report also shows that patient-on-patient aggression more than doubled during that same time.
She also spoke by phone with a patient who told her that the hospital environment isn't therapeutic - he stays in his room for fear of fights with one of the patients who make violence and intimidation the norm.
At Atascadero, the increase in violence seems linked to a 2006 state agreement on treatment plans, which resulted from a civil rights investigation that found abuse and neglect of patients. While Jaffe found some hospital staffers who think the plan has made things better, others are skeptical about its appropriateness for hospitals treating people who've committed violent crimes. One employee who had to quit after being attacked by patient and suffering serious neck damage says it creates security risks because it's led to employees "spending more time on paperwork than you are treating the patient." Several measures spending in California's legislature would address hospital safety.
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