ABC7 Exclusive: Hospital director addresses safety concerns

December 17, 2010 8:36:12 PM PST
First there was a murder, then a brutal beating, and the victims were workers at Napa State Hospital. Their accused attackers are patients. For the past two months, workers have telling reporters it is a dangerous place to work. For this Only On 7 report, ABC7 interviews the hospital's interim director.

The interview comes in the wake of the murder of psych tech Donna Gross two months ago. A patient, Jess Massey, has been charged in that case. Last weekend, another patient Sean Bouchie was arrested for beating a hospital therapist. Hospital workers say those were only the most serious of many assaults in the forensics units, the section where the criminally insane and most violent patients are housed.

Interim director Dolly Matteucci has been on the job only 16 months, although she's been working at Napa State Hospital for 20 years.

"The staff that I work with are incredibly important to me. I want them to be safe. I want them to feel safe," says Matteucci.

Matteucchi says the staff is like family, but many in that family don't feel safe coming to work. Nurse Kathleen Thomas-Morris is one of them.



"We need to see police on the units. It makes a huge difference just when they walk through," says Thomas-Morris.

Napa State Hospital police respond to emergencies from outside the forensics section. Those officers are not permanently stationed inside those units.

Matteucchi says that's the way it's been ever since Napa State Hospital became a forensics hospital in the early 1990's.

"We were not allocated hospital police resources to be a part of the living environment, to be available within the living and treatment units, 24 hours, seven days a week," says Matteucchi.

Matteucchi tells ABC7 News she has asked for 20 more officers who'll be assigned to those units. For now, the director says she's trying to do the best she can to improve safety. Patients are now escorted to the grounds not by one, but two staff members.

But hospital workers say that creates dangerously low staffing shortages in the units. Thomas-Morris gives an example where several workers left a unit to escort patients.

"It resulted in one employee and one psychiatrist on the unit, for at least an hour with 20 patients," says Thomas-Morris.

ABC7 asked Matteucchi the same question we've posed to workers, "Is it a safe place?"

"I think that we have established a hospital that is indeed set up in the best way possible for the safety of individuals and our staff," says Matteucchi.

It's a simple question, but difficult to answer.


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