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Patients Attack Employees in California’s Mental Hospitals

Patients Attack Employees in California’s Mental Hospitals

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.

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Photo from publik15 via flickr.

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5:25PM PDT on Sep 5, 2011

That's awful. These hospitals should have better conditions for both the patients and staff.

12:06PM PDT on Jul 25, 2011

Silvia, State psychiatric hospitals are part of the mental health system. The mental health system is designed to help people that are experiencing mental illness. Not everyone that is mentally ill goes to the state hospital. More people who have been diagnosed with a mental illness use group homes. I used to work in group homes in Montana and Florida. We worked with the therapeutic intent to help the residents.

There is less money for mental health services due to budget cuts, but there are group homes in California. California is working on improving the service in state hospitals. It is an unusual effort at this time. I think that they ought to be commended for their leadership. Go Governor Brown!

8:06AM PDT on Jul 24, 2011

The only reason why this is happening is because half of the patients if not more who end up in there are not sick at all they are just being forced druged until they can't talk act or think for themselves and most of the WORKING employees are liars who abuse their position especially nurses that reports to the doctor it is all about reports
and people of course rather believe the person that works in there rather than the patient
if you are depress suicidal or whatever it maybe they want to analyse you with
it does not make you crazy it is just a exscuse for the medical team to inject you with all the GRAP they can feed you with mentally emotionally physically .mental institutes are traps set up by dentists and all the rest
if you were crazy could you drive a car my daughter fell asleep on the cold floor last night that is where she wanted to be and i know why but i won't tell you because i ain't no doctor
maybe we could start analysing her for that and when she gets really sad i could take her to the DOC maybe they soon will find something other than a dog to give her to numb her with until we all CAN"t feel anymore. the people that work in there are just machines that need a check up themselves too
look at it this way the employees give their treatment to the patient and the patient give their treatment to the employees no more spending on the childish issues a camera won't solve anything if it is in to protect the one that does not NEED IT

WELL i have to go

4:47PM PDT on Jul 21, 2011

thanks for your article.

8:02AM PDT on Jul 20, 2011

Voluntary commitment is usually exercised at private, not public hospitals. Moreover, group home settings entertain clients that had not commit any crimes. Most of the population at public facilities were commited due to corroborated testimony regarding criminal acts; many of the crimes were acts of violence. The person that was commited had to display symptoms of mental illness or had to be diagnosed as mentally ill to be placed in a psychiatric hospital. Otherwise, they would simply have been put in jail to await a court hearing. Certainly, false accusation and incorrect diagnosis contribute to some committments. The system should facilitate rapid release for those that do not belong in a psychiatric hospital.

6:28PM PDT on Jul 19, 2011

(continued from previous comment): violent urges. See

6:24PM PDT on Jul 19, 2011

It is absolutely untrue that one needs to attempt suicide, assault others, or "behave in a criminally insane way" in order to be put in a mental hospital against one's will. The law also allows for involuntary commitment of individuals who are simply unable to care for themselves due to a mental illness. I have known of many tales of violence in mental hospitals - staff against patient and patient against staff. Rather than considering increased security as the option at the hospital, sometimes a little compassion goes a very long way (not always, but compassion and respect along with deescalation tactics can greatly reduce violence). I was on a conference call with a clinical director of a mental hospital in the northeast somewhere who was able to achieve an environment free of restraints and seclusion while greatly reducing violence. Obviously there is something the rest of us can learn from that hospital's experiences. society used to experience "madmen" as much more violent than we do now - when they were released from their chains and cages they were found to quiet down tremendously. This is not to excuse violence on either end or to blame the victim (be they patient or staff), just to say that increased security isn't the only way or even necessarily the best way, depending on the circumstances of this particular hospital. One more thing to keep in mind: akathisia, a common side effect of some psychiatric drugs that causes extremely painful restlessness and in some, vi

9:06AM PDT on Jul 18, 2011

People that don't assault others, attempt to commit suicide or otherwise behave in a manner that threatens safety in a criminally insane way should not need to worry about commitment to a psychiatric hospital. FWIW, such hospitals are more humane and therapeutic than prisons or jails.

7:56AM PDT on Jul 18, 2011

I'd hate to be put in a place such as what you are talking about.I think we can all get worse all by ourselves with out being forced. Some places really help while some make your problems much better so you cope well on release.

7:35AM PDT on Jul 18, 2011

Mental hospitals used to be the norm. De-institutionalization has been promoted because it is not therapeutic to "lock everyone up." Funding support from the state is for therapeutic treatment. That is to say, that there are only a limited number of hospitals and a larger number of group homes. This is designed to promote the least restrictive environment for the treatment of those diagnosed with a mental illness. Psychiatric hospitals only treat those who have demonstrated that they represent a serious threat to themselves or others.

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