Security changes at the state hospital

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by Sybil Hoffman

azfamily.com

Posted on August 14, 2012 at 9:11 PM

Updated Tuesday, Aug 14 at 11:00 PM

PHOENIX -- The allegations range from broken bones to blindness. 3TV is looking into the new security model recently implemented inside the Arizona State Hospital.

Not a big surprise considering it's home for approximately 300 of the state's most mentally disturbed people.

The CEO of the Arizona State Hospital, Cory Nelson, points out, "You can have the most secure environment, but it doesn't mean it's a safe environment."

In March, sweeping changes to security at the Arizona State Hospital took effect. Staff dedicated solely to security was reduced.

"If all we do is sit around and wait for something to get bad and then call in the troops, you're going to have bad outcomes the majority of the time," Nelson said.

A sentiment echoed by the director of the Arizona Department of Health Services, Will Humble.

"We weren't really responding to those incidents in a way that's the most effective," he said.

So the security team was renamed. It's now known as the Campus Support and Safety Department. It's a staff that encompasses the entire staff.

"So rather than have those 110 people focus on security, I want 600-plus people focused on safety," Nelson said.

"So no longer is their job to step back and call security, their job is to engage," Humble reiterated.

But according to an anonymous source, requiring all staff to engage when a patient begins to act out is putting them in more danger.

Staff allege they're being assaulted on a regular basis. One claim, a nurse was blinded in one eye. Nelson points out that incident took place prior to the new security model.

"The situation you're referring to actually happened about a year and a half ago," Nelson said.

Another claim, a medical tech ended up with a broken orbital bone. When he returned, he said he was attacked again and suffered broken ribs.

"I'm not saying it hasn't happened, but we don't have a record of it," Nelson said. "I'm not aware of it."

The most recent accusation is regarding a patient who repeatedly slammed a nurse's head against the floor inside the Desert Sage Unit.

The source claims staff have been refused the opportunity to notify police, suggesting it's an attempt to hide how seriously dangerous these working conditions have become. An accusation Nelson believes stems from a misunderstanding.

"I've been very clear with staff," Nelson said. "I'm not telling anyone not to call police, what I'm asking staff to do is really step back, take a look at the situation, after the immediate emotion of the situation has settled a little bit, so they can make that decision on what they want to do."

Nelson maintains safety is his top priority and said the new security system is working.

"We've seen a dramatic decrease in the amount of physical intervention that has had to happen," Nelson said.

Nelson said the number of cases requiring staff to use restraining measures has significantly declined since implementing the new security model.

For more information about the model, called Culture of Care, log on to www.azdhs.gov.
 

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