A suicidal patient at Riverside Community Hospital leaped from a fifth-floor ledge to his death Monday morning, which hospital union officials -- involved in hard-fought contract negotiations -- blamed on reduced staff levels.
Grant Golz, 35, of Riverside jumped about 10:15 a.m., although no witnesses have come forward, police said.
Golz, a methamphetamine addict, had been a patient there since July 19, when he was admitted after attempting suicide by overdosing on meth and drinking antifreeze, according to his father, Mike Gardner.
“He had done pretty well over this last year,” said Gardner, 58. “We thought he was finally over the hump and had beaten it.”
Riverside police are not pursuing a criminal investigation, said spokesman Steven Frasher.
Golz’s death comes during a period of friction between the hospital union and management.
Officials with the Service Employees International Union’s United Healthcare Workers West and SEIU Local 121RN lambasted the hospital, run by healthcare chain HCA, for recent staff cuts that they said endanger patients.
“It was staffing based on greed and profit,” said Dana Simon, spokesman for United Health Care Workers West. “The last thing that we wanted was an incident that would confirm our worst fears.”
Hospital spokeswoman Tracy Dallarda said staffing levels had nothing to do with Golz’s suicide.
“For the union to allege otherwise and to capitalize on a tragedy is very disturbing,” Dallarda said in a prepared statement Monday.
Hospital officials asked about 50 certified nursing assistants, dietary aides, emergency room technicians and other caregivers not to report to work starting last Friday, according to union leaders. Simon called the move “unprecedented.”
Dallarda said employees are routinely called in or off depending on patient numbers and the seriousness of their conditions, and that Riverside Community’s staffing was adequate over the weekend.
Union leaders alleged that Golz was not being properly monitored before his death.
One hospital staffer, called a “sitter,” was assigned to monitor Golz and another troubled patient, recently moved from Golz’s room, according to Golz’s father. The father said he had seen such a sitter before, in a hallway chair watching both rooms. He said a staffer told him that on Monday morning, a sitter was in that same position but briefly left her post to secure the other patient’s restraints. When she returned, Golz, who was unrestrained, was gone, he said.
Dallarda said she couldn’t confirm those details.
Riverside Community Hospital does not have a special ward for psychiatric patients, Dallarda said. Rather, “sitters” are assigned to suicidal patients, although caregiver ratios depend on the individual and are not prescribed by law, she said.
Hospital staff had been caring for Golz’s medical problems but were trying to transfer him elsewhere for psychiatric care, Dallarda said.
Golz’s father said he doesn’t hold hospital employees or policies responsible for his son’s death.
“If somebody is looking for a way to do something, they’ll bide their time until they can find a way,” he said. “I’m not really blaming anybody right now. I absolutely blame methamphetamines and the people who sell them.”
Regarding the union dispute, Gardner added, “I hate to see a tragedy like this get turned into a bargaining chip.”
Staffers, in addition to 2,500 employees at HCA hospitals in West Hills, Thousand Oaks and two facilities in San Jose, have voted to authorize strikes.