A chilling new piece from NPR describes increasing agitation among the employees of California’s mental hospitals, who say that their workplaces are not safe. At just one facility, Metropolitan State Hospital in Los Angeles, staff members were attacked 1,300 times by patients last year, twice as many as the year before. And, equally disturbingly, patients assaulted other patients at the rate of 7 times per day.
When psychiatrist Laura Dardashti started worked at Metropolitan five years ago, coworkers told her, “It’s not if you get assaulted — it’s when.” She said that she was first attacked a year and a half ago, when, in her words, a psychotic patient “grabbed me by my hair and had me down…in a pretty significant headlock.”
In May, a psychiatric technician at Napa State Hospital was injured by a patient, just a month after the facility was fined $100,000 for safety violations. The patient was not arrested, and the Napa County Sheriff’s office did not respond. The assault was minor, however, in comparison to the strangling of another psychiatric technician, Donna Gross, last October.
There is nearly uniform agreement about the fact that California’s psychiatric hospitals are not safe. But the funding is limited. ”I think the conflict, as it were, arises from what is feasible to be done,” Dr. Michael Barsom, Metropolian’s medical director, said. “So to hire more staff, to hire more police officers, to implement an alarm system are very expensive items.”
In the budget passed last month, state hospitals got $10 million more than last year, which is a start. The state assembly will also hold a hearing to try to determine what is causing the violence, and how it can be stopped. But the employees of hospitals like Metropolitan are still protesting their working conditions, and it’s unclear how long it will take before they feel safe in their workplaces.
Photo from publik15 via flickr.