Mental health workers rally and demand security

November 16, 2010 2:40:35 PM PST
Dozens of state mental health workers are rallying today at the Department of Mental Health headquarters in Sacramento to demand better security to protect them against the "unstable population" they encounter on the job, a union spokesman said today.

Nurses and other mental health facility employees have a heightened sense of concern after 54-year-old psychiatric technician Donna Gross was found strangled on the grounds of Napa State Hospital Oct. 23, SEIU Local 1000 spokesman Jim Zamora said.

Patient Jess Willard Massey, 37, who had been declared insane in the early 1990s, has been charged with Gross' murder.

Mental health workers, including some from Southern California, headed to Sacramento for an 11 a.m. rally to voice concerns about safety on the job. The rally is expected to last until 1 p.m.

Zamora said that despite the "prison-like" qualities of some mental hospitals -- high fences topped with razor wire, security gates and barred windows -- security for workers is lacking.

"There's no equivalent of prison guards," Zamora said. "It's scary for some of our employees."

Though there are security guards on hospital grounds, "most areas are not secure," Zamora said.

SEIU Local 1000 represents more than 4,000 workers in Department of Mental Health facilities.

Zamora said workers are looking for immediate changes, including contractual obligations to provide a safer environment for nurses, psychiatric technicians, food service workers, janitors and patients.

"Our folks don't feel secure where they work," Zamora said.

A representative from the Department of Mental Health could not immediately be reached for comment.


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