Napa State Hospital employees rally for safety

January 19, 2011 7:49:00 PM PST
Employees at Napa State Hospital say they fear for their lives every time they come to work. Wednesday, hundreds of doctors, nurses and psych techs held a rally to make the point.

The rally was organized by the five unions representing workers at the hospital. Their message -- "an injury to one is an injury to all." They say attacks by patients have skyrocketed.

Dr. Patricia Tyler is a former medical director at Napa State Hospital. She says patients are becoming increasingly violent.

"There were approximinately1,500 assaults of any kind against patients and staff in this year," Tyler said.

Everyone has a personal story about the violence. Most say they have been attacked.

"He turned and grabbed me by the hair, slammed me to the ground and punched me numerous times," psych tech Danielle Ramirez said.

"He threw a punch at me, a right hook that would have knocked me out," psych tech Chris Cullen said.

80 percent of patients at Napa State Hospital have been charged or convicted of a crime. Many come directly from prison.

The October murder of psych tech Donna Gross has galvanized workers. Their numbers have grown and their call for more security has become a demand.

Workers want hospital police permanently stationed in the section where the criminally insane are housed. They want more staff, security cameras and GPS alarms for workers to wear.

"If we had a lot of these solutions in place, maybe Donna's death wouldn't have happened," nurse Kim Cowart said.

The hospital administration issued a statement saying they are in the process of "training staff on new policies" and additional security measures include "enhanced police officer presence and restricted grounds access for patients."

Local politicians are listening to what Napa State Hospital employees are saying. State Sen. Noreen Evans, D-Santa Rosa, says she is introducing a bill that will address their safety concerns. New Assm. Michael Allen, D-Napa/Sonoma, a former psych tech himself, will hold a public hearing one week from Friday.