Eastern State Hospital, at Medical Lake/DSHS
State mental hospitals always have been somewhat dangerous places, to some extent a naturally inherent quality of places for treating the mentally troubled. But there are matters of degree, and Washington state's seems a little more so than most.
In the Washington House, 24 members have just introduced House Bill 2187, now lodged in the Health Care & Wellness Committee, aimed principally at increasing the nursing staff, and taking other safety measures, in the state hospitals. The bill makes explicit the reasons: "The legislature finds that the continuing number of assaults in state hospitals have made conditions for both patients and staff unacceptable. The legislature further finds that appropriate nurse staffing levels will result in improved patient and staff safety and a reduction in the number of workplace injuries. Therefore, to improve safety conditions in the state hospitals, the legislature intends that minimum patient assignment limits and nurse staffing ratios and other safety measures be implemented as an urgent public policy priority."
The strength of the language about the "continuing number of assaults" suggests a major problem. And so there is.
Ten years ago, the state Department of Health developed a study about workplace injuries at the state hospitals. Here's the abstract:
In order to estimate rates and identify risk factors for assaults on employees of a state psychiatric hospital, we examined workers' compensation claims, hospital-recorded incident reports, and data collected in a survey of ward staff. Results revealed 13.8 workers' compensation claims due to assault per 100 employees per year. Assaults were responsible for 60% of total claims. Incident reports revealed 35 injuries due to assault per 100 employees per year. Survey data revealed 415 injuries due to assault per 100 employees per year. Of the respondents, 73% reported at least a minor injury during the past year. Assault management training in the past year was associated with less severe injuries. Working in isolation, the occupation of mental health technician, and working on the geriatric-medical hospital unit were associated with more severe injuries during the past year. Assaults on staff in psychiatric hospitals represent a significant and underrecognized occupational hazard.
Bad enough, but since then, things have gotten a good deal worse.