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Patient assaults Atascadero State Hospital technician

August 26, 2011 |  4:50 pm

Patients head back to their units after a smoke-break at Atascadero. 
This post has been corrected. Please see note at bottom for details.

An Atascadero State Hospital psychiatric technician suffered head trauma and a fractured eye socket after a Wednesday night beating -- just one day after lawmakers convened in Sacramento to consider the violence plaguing the state's five psychiatric facilities and to try to come up with solutions, Sen. Sam Blakelee's office said today.

Blakeslee (R-San Luis Obispo) learned of the assault Thursday and has met with the hospital's  executive director for a briefing. His office also spoke to employee groups about the attack.

At Tuesday's hearing, Blakeslee had called on Department of Mental Health officials to expedite the creation of special units for the most violent patients and to send those who are too violent to treat to prison.

"The offender responsible for this attack had made explicit threats against this employee and had a well-established record of violence," Blakeslee said in a statement Friday. "This week’s assault underscores the urgent need for reforms to ensure the most dangerous offenders will be swiftly returned to a correctional facility once violent and assaultive behavior becomes evident.”

A statement provided by the Department of Mental Health to Blakeslee said only that the female employee was assaulted at 8 p.m. and hospitalized in moderate condition. A psychiatric patient was booked into the San Luis Obispo County jail on counts of battery using force likely to cause serious injury. The hospital has initiated a proceeding to have him returned to prison.

Blakeslee learned more during his meeting at Atascadero on Friday. According to chief of staff Christine Robertson, employee groups reported that the assailant had "made it known that his goal was to be returned to prison, so he had been engaged in threats and attacks" and had previously threatened the victim. The patient was in restraints and asked to go to the bathroom, where the psychiatric technician either "loosened or removed the restraint and with the free hand he beat her."

Tuesday's hearing touched on the need to distinguish between predatory violence that is intentional and violence spurred by psychosis-related delusions. Staff members have pushed for a more punitive approach toward those who knowingly commit violence. About 92% of the state's hospital patients have either been arrested or convicted of a crime related to their mental illness. Many are vulnerable and regularly victimized. Others, meanwhile, possess a "prison mentality" and are prone to prey on others.


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-- Lee Romney in San Francisco

Photo: Patients head back to their units after a "smoke break" at Atascadero. Credit: Robert Gauthier/ Los Angeles Times

[For the record: 6:45 P.M., Aug. 26: An earlier version of this post attributed details of the assault to chief of staff Christine Robertson, rather than employee groups.]