Mental Hospital Officials: Safety Has Improved, but Violence Remains
During an Assembly committee hearing on Wednesday, state mental health hospital officials said that safety has improved at the facilities but that violence still is too prevalent, in part because patients are sent to the hospitals through the criminal justice system, the Los Angeles Times reports (Romney, Los Angeles Times, 10/9).
Violence in state mental health hospitals was exposed in 2010 when a Napa State Hospital psychiatric technician was strangled by a patient with mental illness.
Since then, the Safety Now Coalition of labor unions representing California hospital workers has pushed for the state to address safety concerns at hospitals run by the Department of Mental Health, such as by:
- Hiring full-time police officers that would be stationed at the facility;
- Making high-security housing available for violent patients;
- Improving alarm systems; and
- Increasing staffing levels (California Healthline, 7/7/11).
However, about 3,000 acts of aggression against patients and staff took place in 2012 at Napa State Hospital.
Details of Hearing
During the hearing of the Assembly Select Committee on State Hospital and Developmental Center Safety, hospital employees and police said they increasingly are concerned about patients' violent tendencies. According to the Times, 90% of patients at the state's five mental health hospitals are referred from the criminal justice system.
Committee Chair Mariko Yamada (D-Davis) said, "Are we turning our hospitals into more of correctional facilities? We're going to have to be really careful in balancing those needs."
Karl Johnson -- a police investigator at the Napa hospital and a representative of the California Statewide Law Enforcement Association -- noted that the Napa facility this year has launched a program to track gang members who are admitted. Johnson said that such individuals "not only take advantage and terrorize our patients but our staff as well."
In addition, Dolly Matteucci -- executive director of the Napa hospital -- said designated grounds crews and more hospital police now monitor patients to prevent assaults.
Comments From Criminal Justice Expert
Meanwhile, David Lovell -- a Napa County criminal justice expert -- said the jail system does not have the resources to handle prisoners with mental illnesses who are incarcerated after committing crimes at mental health hospitals.
Lovell said such prisoners require "a level of treatment that a jail, particularly a small jail, simply cannot provide" (Los Angeles Times, 10/9).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.