Napa State Hospital employees file safety grievance

NAPA, Calif.

SEIU union officials met on Thursday with some of the local union leaders to discuss the problem. That's when they decided to file the grievance. Cal/OSHA was also called and notified as part of that process.

It was just a little more than two weeks ago that Napa State Hospital rolled out its newest alarm -- a high tech wireless system which transmits signals during emergencies to the hospital police department.

ABC7 News was invited to observe the first day from the system's command center. But workers said they did not like wearing the lanyards attached to the alarms because their attackers could use it to choke them. Just two days later, it happened just like they predicted -- a patient tried to strangle a worker with the lanyard.

"He is fine; he was released from the emergency room that evening," Napa State Hospital Executive Director Dolly Mattucci said.

Now, members of the biggest union at the hospital have filed a formal health and safety grievance with the California Department of State Hospitals, charging that the new alarms are malfunctioning and that many are defective and go off even when there are no emergencies.

The union says it is giving members a false sense of security.

"They should pull them back; do multiple testing and make sure they're working properly and then reissue them," SEIU Local 1000 spokesperson Marc Bautista said.

ABC7 News has learned that the hospital was having so much trouble with the new alarms in the section where lower risk patients are housed that they pulled them from staffers there on Tuesday and equipped them with their old alarms, which were the subject of widespread complaints.

Wednesday, union officials met with many of their 900 members at their work units. One big issue: the hospital is making the staff responsible for charging the alarms.

"And if the alarm is not charged, they're being sent home and docked pay because the alarm is not functioning," SEIU Local 1000 spokesperson Richard Hall said.

"If you live in Sacramento, that's half your day just going home and getting it," hospital employee Andrea Wilmes said.

As if to stamp an exclamation mark on the union's demands, there have been more violent attacks. A patient and two workers have been assaulted in the past three days. All the victims were sent to local hospitals to be treated.

Despite the grievance, the union says it still wants to resolve the issue by working with the hospital.

Neither the hospital not the Department of State Hospitals returned calls for comment Wednesday.

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