Frequent Assaults on Workers at San Leandro Psychiatric Hospital, Records Show

The entrance to John George Psychiatric Hospital in San Leandro. (Google)

Staff at a psychiatric hospital in San Leandro were punched, slapped, spit on and kicked — mostly by patients — in at least 80 separate instances over the last year, according to records kept by the agency that operates the facility.

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In some cases they were also bitten, scratched and had their hair pulled.

The union representing workers at John George Psychiatric Hospital has for years called for safer workplace conditions and more staffing, and is now pointing to the new data to cast light on the dangers of the job.

Overseen by the Alameda Health System, a public hospital authority that manages John George, the log details a litany of assaults on staff between May 2018 and the beginning of this month. The incidents occurred in several hospital units, including its emergency room, facility hallways and inpatient rooms, according to the log.

"It's an incredible feeling of vulnerability and anxiety and distraction when this kind of thing can happen." said Rachel Odes, a staff nurse at John George, who has studied workplace violence in healthcare settings."We are short of staff, perpetually. We don't have a deep enough bench to bring in replacement staff when someone gets hurt."

The records include the time each assault happened, where in the hospital it occurred, the type of physical force used and whether the "aggressor" was a patient or a coworker. But no names or detailed descriptions are included.

"We are committed to providing a safe working environment that supports our staff’s ability to care for our patients, including staffing to state mandated staffing ratios at all facilities," AHS said in a statement on Thursday.

AHS also said it would adhere to new workplace safety law requirements by reporting on a broader set of incidents to state regulators "including inappropriate touching or contact, and patients who resist hands-on staff assistance such as medication administration, restraint, seclusion or redirection."

"In addition to this, we continue to implement various safety measures to ensure we are able to meet our patient needs and support our employees in delivering high quality care," the statement said.

In an incident on Sept. 13, 2017, a patient at the hospital punched a nurse in the face and continued hitting him after he fell down, slamming his head into the ground, fracturing his facial bones and inducing a seizure. David McElveen, the victim of the attack, later suffered from a stroke and short-term memory problems.

California's Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) subsequently fined AHS more than $11,000 in connection with the incident after identifying major shortcomings in the hospital's mandated injury and illness prevention program.

The findings sparked calls by John George workers, represented by Service Employees International Union Local 1021, for additional staffing and more effective safety measures. AHS officials said then that creating and maintaining a safe environment for their workers, patients and visitors was a top priority.

But staff and union officials say the dangers are still present.

Odes said she witnessed an attack as recently as last weekend, when a nurse was discharging a patient who did not want to leave.

"He punched this nurse in the face," she said.

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