Napa State employee solves lanyard problem

NAPA, Calif.

Napa State Hospital has begun handing out new lanyards for the emergency alarms which its workers are now wearing, replacing the old controversial ones which employees say can be used by violent patients to strangle them. The new lanyards were the brainchild of a hospital psych tech.

Mike Jarschke's news lanyard has three breakaways which split apart easily if an attacker pulls too hard. The lanyards are attached to an emergency alarm embedded in tags. It enables workers to transmit signals to hospital police through a high tech wireless system.

The new alarms were finally launched last month, nearly two years after psych tech Donna Gross was strangled by a patient.

"After the homicide here, we really need to solve these problems however we can," Jarschke said.

Since then, there have been other attacks by violent patients and demands by the unions for better protection.

Workers say they like the new alarms. They did not like the old lanyards, which patients could use as a weapon.

"And if someone grabbed it from behind and pulled it up, it could, potentially could do injury," California Association of Psychiatric Technicians spokesperson Linda Monahan said.

Jarschke showed hospital management his safety features after an incident involving a patient who tried to strangle a nurse by grabbing his lanyard.

"I had no doubt he could come up with something; the people who are most affected by it are the ones who'll come up with a solution," hospital administrator Mike McQueeney said.

McQueeney says the hospital successfully tested Jarschke's lanyard and began producing the new lanyards a week ago in a building on campus. They've already modified 300 of them but plan to double that number with newer sewing machines they plan to buy.

Jarschke's union says it has been a team effort.

"The hospital administration has been very open; they've given him the resources and materials," Monahan said.

Jarschke didn't bother to patent his invention. There are other things more important than money.

When we get safety for this hospital, that's going to be way better than money for me," he said.

There are four other state hospitals and there is some talk about distributing the new lanyards to employees at those locations.

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