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Coalinga State Hospital fined more than $20,000 for safety lapses

Coalinga patients take a lunchtime break in an outdoor courtyard.

California workplace safety officials have fined Coalinga State Hospital more than $20,000, alleging in part that the psychiatric facility, which mainly treats sex offenders deemed too dangerous for community release, failed to keep staff members safe from assault and has an inadequate employee alarm system.

The citation and fines are similar to those imposed by Cal/OSHA since last year against the other four state mental hospitals -- in Napa, San Bernardino, Norwalk and Atascadero. All told, regulators have fined the system run by the Department of Mental Health more than $200,000 for inadequate “injury prevention” programs and inefficient alarms.

The latest citations were issued March 22 and stemmed from an inspection of the facility in May. In a statement released Thursday, Coalinga State Hospital psychiatric technician Juan Nolasco said staff members have been “trying to get these problems addressed for years, but Coalinga and DMH administrators have ignored us…We can’t tolerate another assault or injury, either to an employee or a patient.”

State mental health officials have appealed Cal/OSHA citations against Norwalk’s Metropolitan State Hospital and Napa State Hospital, where a psychiatric technician was killed by a patient in October 2010. A hearing on the Metropolitan citations is scheduled for next month.

DMH chief deputy director Kathy Gaither has said that state officials are working closely with Cal/OSHA and “remain committed to upgrading safety for a secure working environment.” She has not said whether the department plans to appeal the Atascadero, Patton and Coalinga citations.


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Photo: Coalinga State Hospital patients take a lunchtime break in a courtyard. Credit: Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times

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