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Hospital safety bill proposed

Napa Valley Register, 12/12/10

by Kerana Todorov
Napa Register
December 12, 2010

An East Bay assemblywoman has introduced a bill to improve staff safety at hospitals in response to the slayings of two medical workers, including the death of a psychiatric technician at Napa State Hospital late October.

Mary Hayashi, D-Hayward, introduced the bill last week to improve hospital safety in response to the two deaths, said Ross Warren, a consultant for Hayashi said last week. The bill would strengthen workplace safety for all medical workers, extending existing requirements to state mental health institutional and correctional medical facilities, Warren said.

Donna Gross, 54, a Napa State Hospital psychiatric technician, was found slain Oct. 23 at the Department of Mental Health in an outdoor patio after she failed to return from a break. A patient, Jess Massey, a 37-year-old man with an extensive criminal history dating back to his teens, has been charged in her death in Napa County Superior Court. In the other incident, an inmate at the Martinez facility allegedly struck nurse Cynthia Barraca Palomata with a table lamp, according to news reports. The 55-year-old nurse died three days later.

The deatsh have prompted Napa State Hospital unions to call for improved safety at the hospital, including increased police presence behind the secured areas, staff patrols and allowing staff to remove last names on all staff identification badges.

Hayashi’s bill would require planning ahead for when violence occurs to prevent these possibilities from happening, Warren explained.

“The patients at Napa State have become much more violent,” he said.

Among other directives, Assembly Bill 30 would:

• require all hospitals to adopt a violence prevention plan;

• report attacks on personnel to law enforcement within 24 hours instead of the current 72 hours;

• detail to the state Legislature information on acts of violence at the facilities;

• require annual safety training sessions for all hospital employees assigned to a psychiatric unit.

Better information on when incidents occur is crucial, officials said. “We want to know when these things happen,” Warren said.

Hayashi’s bill was drafted in consultation with the California Nurses Association and other unions,  Warren said. The bill, which includes no money for the required improvements, may come before a committee early next year.

The California Statewide Law Enforcement Association, the union that represents peace officers at Napa State, favors the bill.

“It’s a good bill,” said Coby Pizzotti Legislative Liaison at the California Statewide Law Enforcement Association, which has not worked on the drafting of Hayashi’s bill.

Other legislation is in the works to improve security at the hospital, according to the California Statewide Law Enforcement Association, which wants to increase the number of peace officers at Napa State Hospital.

The Department of Mental Health, which operates Napa State Hospital, has not taken a position on Assembly Bill 30.

“The Department of Mental Health does not have an official position on any legislation at the moment, but staff and public safety remain important to us and we will continue to track legislation that may affect the Department,” Jennifer Turner, spokeswoman for the California Department of Mental Health, said in an e-mail Saturday.

In the meantime, state officials have launched an investigation into the Gross’ death at the hospital.

 “The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) has dispatched surveyors to the facility to investigate the recent staff death. CDPH staff will be looking at staffing documentation and treatment plans of residents to determine compliance with state laws and regulations. The investigation is ongoing,” California Department of Public Health spokesman Al Lundeen said Thursday. 

Massey’s next hearing is scheduled for Jan. 25 in Napa County Superior Court.

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