Lawmaker tours Napa State Hospital

August 4, 2011 12:45:02 AM PDT
Workers at Napa State Hospital have long complained about dangerous working conditions there, especially after a psychiatric technician lost her life in a violent assault last year. Wednesday, a state assemblyman wanted to see for himself just how tough things are for employees.

"There was a just kind of a sigh of relief from all our staff," Napa State Hospital psychiatrist Dr. Patricia Tyler said.

A sigh of relief from hospital staff that patient Jess Massey will be sentenced to 25 years to life for the murder of psych tech Donna Gross last October.

Wednesday, a day after that announcement, Assm. Michael Allen, D-Napa, a former psych tech, quietly slipped into the hospital to see for himself what conditions are like.

"He's been incredibly attentive and interested and really wanting to understand what's happening," Napa State Hospital psychiatrist Tyler said.

"There was a swarm of hospital police officers that followed him and I was thinking to myself, 'Gosh, I wish they would respond as quick when we have an incident in our unit,'" a Napa State Hospital nurse who only wanted to be identified as "Karen" said.

Karen says little has changed to ensure the safety of staff since Gross' murder.

"Other than the shuttle service from the sally port to our units and having our names removed off our badges, there really hasn't been much done," she said.

And the assaults have continued since Gross's death. Patients attacking staff, patients attacking other patients. Just the other night there were two more assaults.

"Several police officers were hit and bit and another patient was assaulted all within 24 hours," Napa State Hospital rehab therapist and union steward Zack Hatten said.

There is almost $10 million in the new state budget for mental hospitals to hire more psych techs and hospital police. But workers are wondering -- where are they?

"If you don't have sufficient staffing then it's really difficult to keep a safe environment," Tyler said.

A hospitalwide alarm system that may have saved Gross' life is still in the planning stages, even though there is money to build one.

"We're still waiting to see where that money is and when we'll see those alarm systems," Hatten said.

After the visit, Allen said he now understands why employees are afraid to come to work.

"I actually observed an attack where one patient was attacking another and five staff had to go in to intervene and bring the person down and medicate them," Allen said.

He said he wasn't so much shocked as impressed.

"I wanted an unvarnished look at what's going on at the hospital and what I saw is we have really dedicated staff in there that are dealing with situations where they simply do not have enough help to get the job done," said Allen.

Napa State Hospital said they welcomed Allen's visit so he could "...witness the quality care and service our staff provide and better understand the complexities of the hospital."

Allen said the solution is taking tens of millions of dollars allocated for overtime and use it to hire more regular staff.

"I'm having a hearing in Sacramento on Aug. 23 to find out what CalOSHA said about the state hospital system in Napa and to try and get some answers," said Allen.

ABC7's Leslie Brinkley contributed to this report.


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