A dozen Atascadero State Hospital employees hurt in attacks by patients

A dozen employees at Atascadero State Hospital were hurt during aggressive incidents with patients in March, according to a batch of preliminary reports from the mental health facility.

From March 5 to 28, the incidents resulted in injuries that varied in severity, including bruising, swelling and joint pain, ASH spokesman Craig Dacus said.

Assaults occur when patients become agitated and behave violently, according to the hospital.

Late last year, state safety investigators issued two citations totaling $25,675 in fines against the maximum-security facility, primarily relating to patient assaults on employees.

Department of State Hospitals has been collaborating with the Division of Occupational Safety and Health through meetings and work groups to resolve the issues.

ASH, one of five state hospitals that treat violent offenders who are mentally ill, is one of San Luis Obispo County’s largest employers, currently employing about 2,000 people. The psychiatric facility is licensed for 1,275 patients -- all men from the courts and correctional system that have committed or been accused of violent crimes.

The March incidents mostly involved one injured employee per attack, but on two occasions – March 5 and March 25 – a group of employees were reportedly hurt in the takedowns.

At 10 a.m. on March 5, three nursing staff sustained minor injuries including muscle stiffness and joint pain during the stabilization of a patient on a housing unit, Dacus said.

Then, at 5:30 p.m. on March 25, a police officer reported minor injuries in an aggressive incident with a patient on a unit. Three nursing staff also sustained minor injuries during the stabilization of that patient.

“Injuries included bumps and bruises,” Dacus said.

Stabilization incidents, also known as containment incidents, occur when patients become violent and resist staff members who are trying to calm them.

Aside from the police officer, all other incidents reported in March involved nursing staff, which can be nurses or psychiatric technicians.

Staff names are not released and job titles remain general in the hospital's attack reports to protect the identity of employees.