Aiding violent patients is focus of new ASH unit

Atascadero State Hospital plans to open a new treatment unit Monday for its most aggressive patients in a pilot program that could expand to all of the state’s mental health hospitals.

The program, called the Enhanced Treatment Unit, is designed specifically for patients not responding to regular treatment and who are acting out violently.

Twelve ASH patients will participate in the program that will feature focused, longer treatment with more staff attention in an attempt to lessen their aggressive tendencies, according to the state.

“It will be more personalized treatment, using different methods, trying things that are a little more intensive and personalized to see what they respond to,” said Kathy Gaither, the state Department of Mental Health’s acting chief deputy director.

Specifics on what types of methods could be used were not disclosed.

ASH, located in southeast Atascadero, is one of five state hospitals that treat mentally ill inmates from the correctional system.

The North County hospital was selected for the unit, in part, because it already had the needed infrastructure to support it. For example, each patient can have his own room.

The new unit will be cost neutral, Gaither said, because ASH will see savings by bringing its most aggressive patients into a smaller group setting with staff, rather than having them in one-on-one settings in regular treatment.

Gaither didn’t say how many employees will staff the new unit.

The change is part of a slew of reforms planned for all of the state’s hospitals, as well as psychiatric programs at Vacaville and Salinas Valley state prisons.

Adding new alarms to ASH is also on the list of future improvements the state is planning.

Some reforms are, at least in part, a result of the state’s renewed power over its treatment methods after a federal court relinquished its temporary oversight at some state hospitals in November. The order forced the state to follow a treatment plan based on patient civil rights that stemmed from a 2006 settlement. That originated from an allegation that patients were being treated unfairly at four of the five state hospitals, including ASH.

The court order limited the use of seclusion, restraints and psychotropic medications on patients.

The state now plans to enforce new treatment plans tailored to each hospital.