Recent attacks spark new calls for more oversight for Arizona State Hospital

State Sen. Nancy Barto is calling for more oversight after three employees were assaulted at Arizona State Hospital.
Published: Nov. 1, 2022 at 1:51 PM MST
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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) - State Senator Nancy Barto is calling for a total overhaul and inspection of all Arizona State Hospital activities, the day after a group of patients reportedly assaulted three staff members before barricading themselves in a treatment room.

“While the Arizona Department of Health Services claims this incident was a rare occurrence, I’ve been contacted over the years by numerous courageous whistleblowers from within the system that have provided disturbing testimony on the many dangerous incidents, injuries, patient conditions and the lack of staffing that has led to what I see as a collapse of operations at the Arizona State Hospital,” said Senator Barto.

This isn’t the first time that the hospital has had staff and patient troubles. In 2021, two patients died by suicide in a month and anonymous reports from employees said they believe it could have been prevented had the hospital been better staffed.

The senator said that she believes the hospital needs independent oversight to ensure that all staff is well-protected and patients are getting the care that they need for their specific issues. She voted in April to support Senate Republican legislation that would have created a governance structure for the hospital instead of being regulated by the Arizona Department of Health Services. The bill did not pass.

“This is why I have a track record of promoting and voting for several important reforms, including SB 1444 and SB 1651, which both provide some degree of accountability,” the senator said. “Clearly more needs to be done to protect those who are suffering from mental illnesses and those who are providing care to these individuals. I will continue to advocate for this worthwhile change.”

Arizona’s Family dug through last year’s report from the Department of Health Services who oversees the state hospital. It shows there were 626 assaults in the civil unit in the hospital. In the report, 265 of those were patients assaulting staff. In the forensic unit, there were 51 assaults, and 26 of those were patients assaulting staff. The hospital defines assault as any unwanted touch or other physical contact.

We spoke with a former employee who says the hospital is not a safe place. “I think the saddest thing is there is no change and if anything, it’s gotten worse,” the former employee, who wanted to remain anonymous said.

This employee says they left their job because of the conditions inside of the hospital. “I was afraid. I was afraid for my safety,” they said.

There were also 374 reports of patients threatening staff. “Honestly it’s traumatizing,” the former employee said.

Barto wants independent oversight for more accountability. It’s something the former employee wants as well. “There is no oversight. No checks and balances. At the end of the day there is just not enough staff to run that hospital adequately.”

DHS tells Arizona’s Family full staff at the hospital would be 749 people. Right now, there are more than 100 openings including 21 security officer positions. Barto is a Republican running for re-election in the newly-redistricted Legislative District 4 against another incumbent state senator, Democrat Christine Marsh.