Napa State Hospital tries to calm staff after murder

October 27, 2010 12:30:40 AM PDT
Napa State Hospital tried to calm workers over safety concerns Tuesday as a patient appeared in court on murder charges.

Hospital administrators held the meeting at 2 p.m. Tuesday, an hour before the night shift came to work. Workers were told more hospital police would be moved from less dangerous posts to beef up security in the forensics section, which houses the criminally insane and most violent patients. Staff who attended told ABC7 no questions were allowed.

Psychiatric technician Donna Gross was killed Saturday night in the courtyard of the forensics unit. Patient Jess Massey has been charged with the murder. He appeared for his arraignment Tuesday at the Napa County courthouse.

Massey is a mentally ill patient with a long rap sheet which includes attempted homicide.

The Service Employees International Union (SEIU), which represents the nurses, says the lack of security has been a longtime issue at the facility. Rosa Sanchez-DeSoto is the union shop steward; she says it became a bigger problem when the hiring freeze went into effect at the hospital.

"There's less staff to help on the units and also when staff gets ill and they call in, there's less staff," she said.

Hospital staff in the forensics section are equipped with an alarm button on their belt, but nurses told ABC7 the alarms only work inside the forensics buildings, not outside on the grounds where Gross was murdered.

The SEIU wants the hospital to immediately address that and other security concerns.

"More police, hospital police presence inside the forensic area, more alarms to be able to work on the grounds and not just on the units," Sanchez-DeSoto said.

Nurses say police response time is too slow because no officers are stationed in the forensics buildings, patrolling wards. The psychiatric technicians union wants that to change immediately.

"I think we need what we call a grounds presence; somebody out there consistently to walk through and look at the situation that's going on out there," psychiatric technician's union spokesperson Brad Leggs said.

Hospital administrators say they cannot comment on the case because of employee confidentiality issues.

On Tuesday night, Napa state hospital allowed a vigil with about 300 people at the front gate, but when they started talking to the media, security guards broke it up.

Twila Cabral, a psych tech, was one of the few who spoke.

"If they're deemed OK, they can go out on grounds with a level G card," said Cabral.

Massey had a level G card, but by phone his sister, Kimberly Barton, told ABC7 she was assured he would be kept under lockdown after an incident with a patient in May.

"I'm angry that this woman lost her life because no one was watching a psycho. My brother is schizophrenic. He should not be left to just roam around," said Barton.

Barton says she has scars all over her body from his violent behavior during their childhood. Massey had to be removed from their home when he was 13 years old.

Workers, here, say they're dealing with maximum-security patients in a minimum-security facility. The hospital has refused to comment citing confidentiality issues and the state Department of Health has yet to answer our questions regarding security.

"We all thought something would happen sometime," said Cabral.


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