NAPA, Calif.--(EON: Enhanced Online News)--Employees, family members, patient advocates, lawmakers, and concerned community members gathered at Napa State Hospital this afternoon to remember NSH Psychiatric Technician Donna Gross on the third anniversary of her death.
“Donna’s death brought everyone together to finally pay attention to the serious safety issues facing our state hospitals”
Gross was murdered on Napa State Hospital grounds on the dark, rainy evening of Oct. 23, 2010, by patient Jess Willard Massey. Massey was sentenced in 2011 to 25 years to life in a state prison.
Event attendees – many wearing black in solemn remembrance -- laid flowers before photo memorials of Gross. California Assemblymember Mariko Yamada, who chairs the Assembly Select Committee on State Hospital and Developmental Center Safety, came to offer continued support for those living and working in California’s state hospitals. Employees at California’s four other state hospitals also wore black in solidarity with their Napa State Hospital coworkers.
Three years after Gross’ death, employees say welcome changes are taking hold in the state’s hospitals for Californians with mental illnesses. A new personal alarm system was deployed at Napa State Hospital last year, replacing the antiquated system that did not work outdoors, where Gross was killed. The Napa system is serving as the pilot program for other new state hospitals’ systems, which are on-track to all be replaced by the summer of 2014. Grounds-patrol teams – modeled after Patton State Hospital’s 20-year-old first-response group – now are active throughout Napa and Metropolitan State Hospitals’ acres of fenced yards, offering increased security for patients and workers alike. Napa also has increased internal security with a new police substation that has dramatically increased officers’ response times in emergencies.
Nevertheless, even as critical safety improvements move forward, violent assaults and injuries at state hospitals continue, with a rate of approximately 3,000 incidents in the past year at NSH alone, according to hospital administrators. As state-hospital employees testified before the Select Committee on State Hospital Safety on October 9, still-needed solutions include improved staffing ratios – which haven’t changed in decades despite state hospitals’ transformation to an almost entirely forensic clientele – and Assembly Bill 1340’s enhanced treatment units to provide intensive, secure treatment for the most dangerous and predatory patients.
Today’s event participants reaffirmed their commitment to work in Gross’ name toward a safer environment for those living and working in California’s state facilities. Napa staffers shared memories of Gross as well as personal stories of their own injuries, and called on the Department of State Hospitals to continue working toward staffing and safety improvements.
“Donna’s death brought everyone together to finally pay attention to the serious safety issues facing our state hospitals,” said Linda Monahan, a Napa State Hospital psychiatric technician who also serves as Napa Chapter president for the California Association of Psychiatric Technicians. “The safety changes we’ve achieved and continue to work toward are her living legacy.”