Napa State Hospital murder raises safety questions

NAPA, Calif.

Psychiatric technician Donna Gross was killed Saturday on the grounds of the forensics unit. Patient Jess Massey, who has a long rap sheet which includes attempted homicide, was arrested for the murder.

ABC7: "When you go to work, do you fear you're going to be hurt?"

Female Nurse: "Absolutely. Every day."

One of the nurses that also works at Napa State Hospital's forensics unit, the section which houses the criminally insane and the most violent patients, agreed to speak to ABC7 on the condition of anonymity.

She and other staff ABC7 talked to echo the same thing -- that Napa State Hospital is a dangerous place.

ABC7: "Was this a murder waiting to happen?"

Female Nurse: "Yes."

Workers say assaults inside the hospital are common.

Another nurse said a patient attacked him within the last 72 hours.

"He punched me in the face, knocked me to the floor and then proceeded to try and smash my face with a chair," he said.

The attacks are not limited just to staff. Catherine Neitzel's son, who has been committed at Napa State Hospital, has also been attacked by fellow patients.

"My son has been hit twice with two pairs of broken glasses," Neitzel said.

An ABC7 investigation of the hospital four years ago looked into security concerns voiced by doctors and nurses. The charges were the same -- not enough hospital police officers, slow response times and no officers stationed in the buildings, patrolling the wards.

"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.

"This is a correctional facility, basically, it's a façade, Napa State Hospital is a façade," the female nurse said.

Workers are not the only ones who have complained. Five years ago, the U.S. Department of Justice found what it called "widespread and systemic deficiencies" that put workers and patients' lives at risk.

Napa State Hospital is now in the final years of a consent decree with the Justice Department that requires periodic reviews, but staff say little has changed to improve security since the consent decree was signed.

ABC7: "You go in there knowing there's a chance you may be assaulted?"

Male Nurse: "Yes."

ABC7: "Perhaps even killed?"

Male Nurse: "Yes."

Hospital administrators say they cannot comment on the case because of employee confidentiality issues. There is expected to be vigil for Gross Tuesday evening.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger issued a statement on Gross' death, saying her work was, "A special calling for which she deserves our highest respect." He ordered all state flags to be flown at half staff in her honor.

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