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Blakeslee prepares to kick ASH

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Sen. Sam Blakeslee plans to roll out up to four bills to address worker safety concerns at Atascadero State Hospital.

Blakeslee said stories from hospital employees “disturbed” him, so his office began meeting with ASH administrators and officials from the state Department of Mental Health.

For a second time, he said he plans to run a bill that would make “gassing” a more serious offense. The term is used to describe patients filling bags with bodily fluids and then throwing them at staffers. Blakeslee authored a similar bill before, but it never made it out of committee.

And he has plans to address a litany of other safety concerns. Though his other bills are more tentative, Blakeslee said he wants to push legislation that would create a process whereby staff could administer medication more easily to dangerous patients. He also plans to “fast track” violent patients back into the state prison system, noting that violent patients who were transferred from a prison to ASH would be more likely to modify their behavior if they knew going back was a consequence.

“That’s a common misperception that, because the population is mentally ill … traditional incentives and disincentives don’t work,” he said.

Lastly, Blakeslee might push a bill that would create new hospital wards with specially trained staff in higher numbers to handle particularly dangerous patients.

If the bills go forward, they could also expand to address the state mental health system as a whole. Statewide, hospital employees have raised similar safety concerns as those in ASH, largely pointing to a new recovery model dictated by the U.S. Department of Justice, which mandated extensive reforms in 2006.

Cries for worker protection have peaked recently after Donna Gross, a Napa State Hospital employee, was murdered, allegedly by a patient. Another Napa employee was recently hospitalized after an attack.

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