Hospital workers schedule protests

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Times Staff Writers

State-employed psychiatric technicians, psychologists and other healthcare workers are readying a series of demonstrations designed to draw attention to California’s mental hospitals, which are beset with a staffing crisis that employees contend is eroding safety and patient care.

Members of the California Assn. of Psychiatric Technicians said they would begin protests Monday outside 12 hospitals and developmental centers, including Metropolitan State Hospital in Norwalk and Patton State Hospital in San Bernardino County. The protests, which are expected to last until the end of the month, are timed to coincide with the latest Department of Mental Health budget hearing.

In addition, healthcare professionals represented by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees have scheduled demonstrations for later this month, organizing director Keith Uriarte said.


Together, the organizations represent more than 8,500 psychiatric technicians, psychologists, pharmacists, nurse practitioners, dietitians and other healthcare workers in California.

Workers have left the hospitals in large numbers for jobs in the state prison system following a judge’s decision establishing steep pay increases for comparable positions there. Remaining workers say the quality of care and protection is suffering; in one trend they have linked to the staffing shortage, two Atascadero State Hospital patients had killed themselves and four others had attempted suicide in the last two months.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and state Department of Mental Health Director Stephen W. Mayberg have unveiled a plan to boost salaries at the facilities, but the workers say the plan falls short of true pay parity.

“People just don’t seem to understand how dangerous this really is,” Uriarte said.

A Department of Mental Health official said union picketing is not unusual during budget negotiations, but declined further comment.