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State hospital fined for failing to keep staff safe from patients

November 30, 2012 |  2:09 pm

Atascadero State Hospital

California workplace safety officials have once again fined a state mental hospital for failing to keep staff members safe from patient assaults.

The most serious of the citations issued by Cal/OSHA Thursday against the Central Coast's Atascadero State Hospital carries a $27,000 fine. It notes that between January and September 2012 employees of the hospital suffered an average of 10 patient-caused injuries each month, "some of them severe, however corrective measures to control these hazards were not effectively implemented."

Those measures, the citation notes, include more effectively controlling access to portions of the hospital, an improved alarm system, enhanced presence of security personnel and adequate staffing on hospital shifts so employees can both care for patients and respond to assaults when they occur.

The hospital was also fined $450 for improperly erasing the names of injured employees from documents required by Cal/OSHA.

The penalties are the latest in a series against all five of the state's mental hospitals, in Coalinga, Napa, Norwalk, San Bernardino and Atascadero. The most egregious among them came after the murder of a Napa State Hospital psychiatric technician two years ago. Donna Gross was strangled by a patient on the fenced grounds of the hospital, where the existing alarms did not function.

The Department of State Hospitals has appealed the previous citations while simultaneously working with regulators to improve conditions. A new wireless alarm system that works throughout the facility was rolled out at Napa State Hospital earlier this year and will eventually be installed at the other hospitals, officials say.

Atascadero State Hospital psychiatric technician Tessa Linhares, secretary of the facility's chapter of the California Assn. of Psychiatric Technicians, said the most recent Cal/OSHA findings "emphasize what we've been saying all along: More needs to be done -- and done quickly -- to protect those who work and live at Atascadero State Hospital.”

A State Hospitals Department spokesman said a statement on the situation would be released by day's end.

In a statement, officials said the Department of State Hospitals “continues to make staff and patient safety a high priority” and has been collaborating with Cal/OSHA  “through ongoing meetings and workgroups to resolve these issues.” 


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Photo: Atascadero State Hospital in 2005. Credit: Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times