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Two state mental hospitals fined for allegedly failing to protect staff

March 2, 2012 |  4:50 pm

California workplace safety officials have issued nearly $100,000 in fines against San Bernardino’s Patton State Hospital and the Central Coast’s Atascadero State Hospital, alleging in part that the state psychiatric facilities have failed to protect staff from patient assaults and have deficient employee alarm systems.

The Cal/OSHA citations issued Thursday are similar to those levied last spring against Napa State Hospital and Norwalk’s Metropolitan State Hospital, and appealed by the California Department of Mental Health.

Department Chief Deputy Director Kathryn Gaither said in a statement Friday that state officials are “working closely” with Cal/OSHA and “remain committed to upgrading safety for a secure working environment” through “new policies and investments.” She did not address whether the department would appeal the latest citations.

Patton was fined $57,400 and Atascadero $38,555. The most serious citations were for inadequate injury and illness prevention plans that contributed to an average of 20 patient-caused staff injuries a month at Patton from January 2006 to September 2011, and an average of eight a month at Atascadero between January 2007 and October 2011, according to the documents. Those include “severe head trauma, fractures, contusions, lacerations and bites.”

The citations contend that corrective measures -- including a buddy system, adequate alarms, sufficient security personnel and sufficient back-up staffing -- were not taken to improve conditions. Atascadero also failed to adequately staff patient units on swing and overnight shifts, investigators wrote. 

Patton’s employee alarm system “was not capable of being perceived at all” on hospital grounds, while Atascadero’s did not work in a number of areas such as restrooms and stairwells.

State mental health officials have funded but not yet installed a new alarm system for Napa State Hospital, where psychiatric technician Donna Gross was killed in October 2010 on the fenced grounds. Gaither has said Patton is next in line to receive one.

“Instead of spending taxpayer dollars contesting Cal/OSHA violations, the Department of Mental Health needs to concentrate on fixing the problems,” said Brady Oppenheim, spokeswoman for the California Assn. of Psychiatric Technicians. “Improving these safety concerns not only helps staff, but also improves safety for the patients our members and their coworkers care for.” 


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-- Lee Romney reporting from San Francisco