Nurses demand safety

From the March-April issue of News & Letters:

Nurses demand safety

Editor’s note: On Jan. 19, after months of inaction regarding the murder of Donna Gross at Napa State Hospital (see “Losing nurses and patients for profit,” Jan.-Feb. N&L), the workers held a rally. Below we print excerpts from the talks.

Napa Hospital demo

Napa, Calif.–As graduating medical students we took an Oath of Hippocrates, with a special obligation not to do harm. Now I am asking the state of California to do the same for the workers of Napa State Hospital. We want a safe environment, we want safety now!

This past October we watched two tragedies unfold with very different outcomes. One was the 33 Chilean miners who were trapped underground. The Chilean government worked 24/7 to get those guys out. Here we have the Department of Mental Health (DMH). After years of ignoring warnings from all the staff–doctors as well as nurses and psych techs–about the increasing violence, the Napa State Hospital and the DMH has had an anemic response to the murder of Donna Gross and the savage beating of George Anderson.

Most of you have heard the statistics: 200 attacks on staff in 2009, 700 patient assaults–they are vulnerable as well–1,580 crimes in 2009, 224 instances of staff missing work. But stats alone cannot portray the fear, pain and disillusion of these workers.

–Dr. Stuart Bussey

Our sister Donna was murdered tragically. But it was nothing we did not expect. We all knew that one day we would come to work and hear that one of us had been hurt, injured or killed. For years we’ve been asking for adequate staffing. I get calls from staff pleading: we should have seven staff, but we only have five.

During the day we are supposed to be staffed eight to one: there are 40 individuals in a unit, and five staff are assigned. But it takes two staff to escort an individual to a clinic. When even one person goes to dinner, as law requires, there are two staff with 39 individuals! It is not safe for the staff and it is not safe for the patients.

At night, you only get three staff for 45 patients. If there is a crisis on another unit, the number may go down to two, or even one. We have pointed out to the DMH and to Napa State Hospital these unsafe issues, and they have turned a deaf ear.

We have the same goals and interests as the family members of the patients here. For the last several months, since Donna had been killed, this place has been in a lockdown. It is pretty hard to have a therapeutic environment when you’re in a lockdown.

It is difficult to give care when you fear for your own life and safety. Just this week, some patients plotted and carried out beating up their roommate. How can we, as staff, protect those vulnerable individuals, when we become targets ourselves when we try?

I am asking, we are demanding, standing up for safety. We want it now!

–Donna’s co-workers

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