Psychiatrists fleeing Atascadero State Hospital
October 28, 2013
Atascadero State Hospital is admitting fewer patients due to a shortage of psychiatrists. [Tribune]
A total of 22.5 psychiatrists are currently on staff, marking a 33.7 percent reduction since September 2012. Last month, ASH reduced the number of patients it admits each week from 24 to 15 and closed one of two units for patients deemed incompetent to stand trial.
“It’s spreading them thin. It’s not good for the treatment of the patients of the safety of the doctors,” said Dr. Stuart Bussey, president of the American Physicians and Dentists union.
Department of State Hospitals spokesman Ralph Montano attributes the psychiatrist attrition at ASH to a variety of factors, including an unpopular location and higher salaries elsewhere.
However, safety is also a concern at ASH. In November 2012, the California Division of Occupation Safety and Health fined ASH $27,000 for an ongoing pattern of patient assaults on employees. In 2012, the hospital averaged 10 employee injuries a month due to patient attacks.
An increase in violence at ASH occurred in January 2012 while the state was imposing a hiring freeze. Four attacks on employees occurred in one week that month. At the time, ASH had 30 active psychiatrists.
In August, the California Men’s Colony opened a new 50-bed mental health center. The Department of State Hospitals did not confirm whether ASH lost any psychiatrists to the new CMC facility.
“DSH-Atascadero is making every effort to recruit psychiatrists and anticipates lifting the suspension soon,” Montano told the Tribune.