Napa State Hospital adjusting after choking incident

NAPA, Calif.

On Tuesday, Napa State Hospital issued new alarm triggers, a much-needed safety device for people working there. But some of the psych techs were worried about wearing the alarms around their necks. In California, lockups guards will tell you, "Don't wear anything around your neck that could be used to choke you."

When the new alarms were activated Tuesday, Napa State Hospital responded to employee concerns about wearing the alarms on lanyards around their necks. "It doesn't have a break-away feature and we think the likelihood of something happening is very small," state hospital administrator Kathy Gaither said. But the deputy director of state hospitals was wrong. It took exactly one day before a hospital employee was punched in the face by a patient who then grabbed the lanyard from behind, choking the therapist with the lanyard that was holding the alarm.

"He is fine. He was released from the emergency room that evening," Napa State Hospital Executive Director Dolly Mattucci said. Mattucci says Cal-OSHA investigators interviewed witnesses at the hospital Friday. Psych tech Mike Jarschke says he'd rather not put that lanyard around his neck. "I'm hoping that I can get some other option," he said.

There is an option: To wear the alarm on a belt clip. After Wednesday's attack, the hospital ordered a lot more of those clips so employees can have a choice, but the clips won't be in for another ten days. In the meantime, hospital supervisors are telling employees to wear their lanyards around their necks. "I think that it is at this point, acceptable to say to staff, 'Wear the lanyard as it was issued in the fashion that it is designed to work.' We are evaluating how to address staff that don't want to do that," Mattucci said.

Mattucci would not say the lanyards were a bad idea, but she also isn't taking any action against those employees who refuse to wear them around their necks. "We're not sending them home at this point. We are not disciplining them. They are just being reminded of how the lanyard is to be worn so that we can know it will alarm," she said.

Employees told ABC7 News it was an unusual situation. They said hospital director, in the past, has been very responsive to employee concerns. The director said that employees can carry their lanyards on the belt or in their pocket, and while it's not the approved method, nobody's going to get in trouble if they don't wear them around their neck.

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