Some Napa State Hospital workers concerned about new alarms

NAPA, Calif.

Workers have been wearing the alarms for a while but Tuesday was the first day the alarms were activated. There were glitches in the pilot program, but hospital says they were minor and the system worker fairly well.

It has been nearly two years since psych tech Donna Gross was strangled by a patient Jess Massey. Since then, other aggressive patients have attacked hospital workers and patients alike.

Almost all of the assaults have been in the hospital's forensics unit, where the criminally insane and the most violent patients are housed.

Gross was wearing an alarm which only worked inside buildings. She was killed outside on the grounds.

Today was rollout day for the newest alarm, a high tech wireless system.

ABC7 News was invited into the makeshift control room where technicians were monitoring the alarms for glitches. The alarms are imbedded in tags which transmit signals to the hospital police office. It can show the name, photo and precise location of the workers during emergencies. The signals are also sent to the tags of other workers who can come to their aid.

Workers ABC7 News spoke with like the new alarms, but they don't like wearing the lanyard, which if grabbed by a patient, could be a choking hazard.

The union says there has already been one incident.

"One of the RN's was grabbed by a patient and he pulled away as much as he could and got away," SEIU Local 1000 spokesperson Ernesto Fontanilla said.

But hospital authorities believe the safety risks of the new alarm are minimal.

"It does have a breakaway feature and we also think that the likelihood of something happening is very small," California Department of State Hospitals spokesperson Kathy Gaither said.

The lanyard does have a breakaway device in the back which can split in two if an attacker pulls too hard, but there's a potential problem -- if the lanyard is grabbed at the breakaway point it will not release.

Workers are passing out a petition, asking the hospital to listen to their complaints.

"We want an option, something that rides on our hips, clips to the belt," AFSCME Local 2620 spokesperson Zach Hatton said.

T.C. Hulsey is a unit supervisor who was made available to ABC7 News by hospital management. He says he has no qualms about the lanyard.

"A person can be choked with a piece of clothing as well as a lanyard," he said.

Gaither says they are considering other options, like an alarm that attaches to workers' belts. Hospital employees say they wish administrators had waited to roll out the new program until the other options were investigated.

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