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Napa State Hospital workers get improved alarm system

September 19, 2012 | 11:53 am

Napa State Hospital workers rally for safer conditions

The Department of State Hospitals this week began replacing the lanyards used by employees at Napa’s psychiatric facility to carry personal alarms with a new design that poses no risk of strangulation, officials said.

Demands for an improved alarm system at Napa State Hospital intensified after the October 2010 strangulation of a psychiatric technician on the fenced hospital grounds, where the old devices did not work. However, the pilot program rolled out last month required employees to wear the high-tech wireless devices around their necks.

The lanyards were designed to break apart in the back if pulled on with enough force. But employees maintained the devices still could be used as garrotes by someone pulling from behind. Within days of the rollout, a nurse was assaulted in just that fashion. (He was treated and released from a local hospital.)
State officials then allowed workers to wear the alarms on belt loop clips instead, while Napa administrators gave a psychiatric technician who formerly designed outdoor equipment the green light to develop alternatives.

Mike Jarschke’s design has three breakaway points. They can sustain the force needed for a user to pull on the alarm hard enough to sound it. But if greater force is applied -- in an assault, for example -- the lanyard breaks in three places.

The new design “completely eliminates the safety concerns raised by staff,” administrators told employees in a hospital-wide email. "Since it is a triple, rather than a double/single breakaway, no segments of the lanyard are long enough to pose a risk after the lanyard breaks away.”

Parts have been ordered and work begun “to modify over 1,000 of the existing single breakaway lanyards,”  state officials said. Employees still have the option of wearing the belt loop clip.
The Napa alarms now are being used by employees in the secure area where patients accused or convicted of crimes related to their mental illness are held. The system will be expanded for use in the whole facility, and state officials expect to install it by year’s end at Norwalk’s Metropolitan State Hospital and San Bernardino’s Patton State Hospital. Atascadero State Hospital and Coalinga State Hospital will follow next year.

“Working this out for other state hospitals makes me happy,” Jarschke said. “It’s been a real team effort.”

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-- Lee Romney in San Francisco

Photo: Workers rally at Napa State Hospital. Credit: Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times

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