WA Psychiatric Hospital Workers Call for Greater Protections

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LAKEWOOD, Wash. — Western State Hospital workers are continuing to call for changes to protect their safety.

Assaults on staff are a major concern for employees.

Rep. Mari Leavitt, D-University Place, attended a rally at the hospital in July and said workers’ protection is a big concern.

“Their families sometimes wonder if they’re going to come home in one piece or if they’re going to get injured on the job and not be able to take care of their family, and I think that that’s a legitimate concern,” Leavitt contended. “If I were a family member of a staff member who worked at Western State, I too would have that concern.”

Patients have attacked staff on a number of occasions, including taking part of a nurse’s ear in 2018. In 2020, the hospital created the Specialized Treatment, Assessment and Recovery (STAR) ward to house the most violent patients.

A spokesperson for the hospital said it is developing staff on a sister ward to fill in when necessary and reaching out to agency nurses to assist with staff shortages.

The spokesperson also noted the hospital offers training several days a month. However, at the July rally, workers said people on the STAR ward did not have enough training and that the hospital remains understaffed.

Mark Camacho, institutional counselor at the hospital and a Washington Federation of State Employees member, said he has been assaulted multiple times, and urged management to listen to what folks on the ground have to say about conditions in the hospital.

“We’re short-staffed. We’re burned out,” Camacho asserted. “It’s not worth the money, and many are quitting because they’re getting beat up. You know, they didn’t ask to come here and get punched in the face, and all of this stuff, in my opinion, can be prevented.”

Although the hospital created a ward for violent patients, many workers point to the violence-reduction team for its efforts to keep people safe and want to see the team expanded.

Marie Buss, psychiatric social worker at the hospital, and union member, believes management should recognize its importance.

“A lot of times they will say safety is number one, but by their actions the union doesn’t see it,” Buss emphasized. “You want to be safe, yet you try to take away a program, and the union stood up and showed that this program does its work. So we were able to save it. But again, actions speak louder than words.”

Featured photo: Western State Hospital opened a special ward to treat about ten of its most violent patients.(Washington Federation of State Employees)

Eric Tegethoff

Eric Tegethoff is a journalist covering the Northwest. Eric has worked as a reporter for KBOO, XRAY FM, and Oregon Public Broadcasting in Portland, Oregon, as well as other print and digital news media. In 2012, Eric traveled to North Dakota to write about the Bakken region oil boom. He's also worked at a movie theater, as a campaign canvasser and quality assurance at a milk packaging factory. Eric is originally from Orlando, Florida. He graduated from the University of Florida in 2010.

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