State working on Napa Hospital safety issues

January 20, 2011 7:06:30 PM PST
Workers at Napa State Hospital say they want to be able to go to their jobs without fearing for their lives. The state Department of Mental Health responds to their demands.

80 percent of patients at Napa State Hospital have been charged or convicted of a crime. ABC7 has been covering the story for months and almost every worker interviewed says they have been a victim of an attack by a violent patient.

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

"He grabbed me by my neck and pulled me into the room and started strangling me," psychiatric technician Crystal Johnson said.

Jennifer Turner speaks for the agency that runs Napa State Hospital and four other hospitals. She says they now have workers patrolling the forensics section, the most dangerous area where the criminally insane are housed and workers are being trained to deal with aggressive patients.

ABC7: "Is Napa State Hospital a safe place?"

"I think Napa Hospital is a safe place and as I mentioned before we're committed to the continued improvement of that safety and security," Turner said.

But the attacks by violent patients continue even though it has been three months since psych tech Donna Gross was murdered at the hospital.

Workers say they what really want are hospital police stationed permanently in the forensics units. Now when emergencies happen, police respond from outside the barbed wire fence.

ABC7: "What is so difficult about simply putting police there now, because workers say this is essentially a state of emergency for them?"

"Well, the hospital police officers we have on campus have assigned responsibilities, so as we have made shifts to increase hospital police officer presence in the secure treatment areas, we are taking them away from other areas," Turner said.

ABC7: "They're still not permanently stationed in the units?"

"That's something that's under consideration, it's under recommendation, it's being analyzed at this moment," Turner said.

ABC7: "How long will it take for your department to act on police, staff ratio? You say you're looking at all of this? What do you say to workers who say they're afraid to come to work day in and day out?"

"I think what the department's message to those employees is that their concerns are reasonable," Turner said.

ABC7 asked Turner how long it will take before they act on the request for more police. She said all of that is driven by money and depends on their budget. Considering the battle over money that is going on in Sacramento, that could take months. Workers say the situation is dangerous and unacceptable.