Atascadero State Hospital employee's jaw broken in attack by patient

tstrickland@thetribunenews.comMay 7, 2014 

Correction: ​An earlier version of this story incorrectly said Atascadero State Hospital officials didn't alert the media to the attack until after inquiries were made. Notice of an attack and subsequent patient arrest was previously released to The Tribune, but it contained few details.

A patient at Atascadero State Hospital remained at San Luis Obispo County Jail on Wednesday after he was arrested last month for attacking an employee.

At 5 p.m. April 23, a nursing employee sustained a broken jaw after a patient attacked her while she was working in an admissions unit at the state mental hospital, according to a Department of State Hospitals statement issued Tuesday. The employee, whose name was not disclosed, was taken to a local hospital for medical treatment.

A nursing employee can be a psychiatric technician or a registered nurse.

The patient was arrested and booked into County Jail on felony assault and battery charges.

The Department of State Hospitals isn’t allowed to disclose the names of its patients. But when patients are arrested, their identities become public through jail records. As of Wednesday, Ramon Gutierez, 20, was still on active hold without the possibility of bail.

The incident remains under investigation, according to the hospital.

T​he Department of State Hospitals​ didn’t issue a full statement on the attack until after The Tribune inquired about it, although the hospital had previously disclosed that an attack and subsequent patient arrest had occurred. Greater detail about the attack came to light after three ASH employees who declined to give their names for fear of retribution contacted The Tribune to describe the assault.

The employees said the victim was a female psychiatric technician who was repeatedly punched in the face by the male patient.

“She was sitting in the day room and he just started hitting her out of nowhere,” a psych tech said. “(The victim) didn’t even get to pull her alarm. Actually, a couple of other patients were able to rescue her.” The victim had jaw surgery and is now recovering, the employee said.

Hospital employees wear personal alarms to summon immediate help to their location within the hospital.

The attack is the second incident in recent weeks that resulted in a patient arrest.

On April 29, three patients were arrested after they allegedly charged at hospital police. The brawl ended when police subdued the patients with pepper spray. Four employees were hurt, including two hospital police officers who sustained serious injuries that included broken ribs.

Violence is not uncommon at ASH, a high-security state hospital in southeast Atascadero that treats mentally ill, male inmates from the correctional system and other violent offenders. It’s one of five such facilities in the state.

“This type of incident happens far too often at Atascadero,” said Brady Oppenheimer, spokeswoman for the union representing psychiatric technicians. “In this particular case, we have one of our members watching the day room when she was ambushed by a surprise attack. This would have been prevented had more staff been on hand to stop the beating our member suffered.

“A broken jaw, surgery and workers compensation are all prices being paid by the psych tech and taxpayers in general,” Oppenheimer said in a written statement.

The California Association of Psychiatric Technicians is the professional association for approximately 14,000 licensed psych techs statewide.

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