Alarming increase in attacks on ASH workers

April 8, 2011

Violence at Atascadero State Hospital – Source: Report for U.S. Justice Dept.; California Dept. of Mental Health – Credit: NPR

Violent attacks against employees and patients at Atascadero State Hospital (ASH) has risen 36 percent since 2006 despite a new federal treatment plan that was intended to curb the assaults, according to state and federal documents. NPR

Records show violence increased at three of the four hospitals covered by the Justice Department plan, which was the result of a civil rights investigation that found some serious problems: abuse and neglect of patients; substandard care; and lousy record-keeping.

A two-part series which culminated today on National Public Radio, detailed a series of abuses against state employees who risked their own safety and sometimes life to treat mentally ill patients who in many cases were felons and criminal offenders.

In one of the more extreme incidents which happened last October, Napa State Hospital employee Donna Gross was killed by a patient who has since been charged with her murder. One Napa patient told NPR some of his peers behave like predators making violence and intimidation part of daily life at the hospital.

In one year as many as 1,000 violent incidents were reported at ASH. In some cases victims claimed they were so badly injured or traumatized by the assault that they were approved for permanent disability.

The rise in violence is calling the state’s leadership to action. There are currently about half a dozen measures pending in the sate Legislature which are focused on hospital safety.

Republican Sen. Sam Blakeslee says the Atascadero psychiatric hospital has “an inherently dangerous population.” He has proposed new laws designed to make the hospital safer, including a bill that would make it easier to medicate patients against their will.

“I have constituents, who work in the facility, that are just distraught about their sense of threat and risk and potential injury,” Blakeslee said.

Some critics told NPR, the treatment plan the hospital was forced to adopt after the Justice Department’s investigation drove a wedge between the staff and the patients by requiring massive amounts of documentation which took time away from treatment.

Part of the skepticism about the plan is that patients, many of whom are felons and people that committed violent crimes, are allowed to identify their own goals and interests in choosing treatment options.

California is the only state where the Justice Department has imposed this regimen on hospitals that exclusively treat mentally ill criminals. California’s second such hospital, Patton State Hospital in San Bernardino, has also seen violent incidents rise by 36 percent.

California’s agreement with the federal government expires later this year.

Blakeslee said at the end of the day it’s the taxpayers who are spending more than $500 for each day a patient stays in the psychiatric hospital. He questions the effectiveness of the staff’s ability to cure patients amidst the violent environment.

“The public has a right to expect that these individuals will get the treatment to make them less dangerous, because ultimately many of these people will be back on the streets,” Blakeslee says. “They’ll be our neighbors; they’ll be at our grocery stores. Our kids will walk by their homes.”


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13 Comments

  1. ringowine says:

    Does anyone know what’s going on there right now? What appeared to be large transport convey(empty) was seen entering ASH at around11a.m. today. Scuttle butt is that there are 4 units being closed(MDOs ) and a large(100 plus) layoff is about to happen.

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