Thank you for the fine editorial calling for improved safety at Atascadero State Hospital (“State mental hospitals need immediate attention,” Feb. 6). As the association that represents hospital police officers at institutions run by the state departments of Mental Health and Development Service, we could fill a whole Sunday newspaper with additionally alarming stories.
We commend Sen. Sam Blakeslee for taking the time to shadow ASH workers and get a first-hand experience about the threatening conditions they face every day.
He saw it all up close. An aggressive patient turning violent. A staff member quickly reaching to trigger a body alarm. Sirens roaring. The physical takedown of a raging patient. And convex mirrors to watch your back while you walk the open corridors. These are just some of the daily, high-risk working conditions Sen. Blakeslee experienced for himself recently when he entered the facility.
State hospital police manage some of the most violent criminals in the state in a setting where the patients enjoy more rights than the employees. Correctional officers and staff who manage the same dangerous population in the state’s prisons are protected by armed officers, locking cells, a greater ability to administer anti-psychotic medications and stiffer legal consequences for inmates who assault staff.
This is not the case for hospital staff, who also patrol the vast acreages these hospitals sit on and are sometimes the first responders to 911 calls from nearby communities.
With thousands of San Luis Obispo County residents working at ASH, Sen. Blakeslee and The Tribune are right to be calling for immediate improvements to hospital safety. We hope that more lawmakers follow Blakeslee’s lead and see for themselves what really goes on in state hospitals. I believe it would shock them into taking action.
Alan Barcelona is the California Statewide Law Enforcement Association president.