May 19, 2013

Recent attack underscores Riverview safety concerns

Staffers at the state's only hospital for criminals say getting hurt on the job shouldn't be the expectation.

By BETTY ADAMS Kennebec Journal

AUGUSTA - Donald Beauchene and Sylvie Perry may not have much in common. He has spent 41 of his 69 years in a psychiatric hospital or a prison, and she is a union representative for many of the employees at the state's only psychiatric hospital for criminals.

But they do share something -- the belief that added security measures aren't enough to calm the volatile atmosphere at the state's only hospital for criminals.

A recent attack -- allegedly by mental health patient Mark P. Murphy -- on a staff member at the Riverview Psychiatric Center has resulted in beefed-up security and has underscored longstanding concerns some have about dangers and safety lapses there. Forensic patients are those who have committed violent or serious criminal acts but have been deemed not responsible for their actions because of mental incompetence.

Beauchene, who says he was once assaulted by Murphy, offered a long-timer's perspective on the environment at the hospital in a recent phone interview.

"It is my belief that there is not enough staff to cover the potential situations that come up," he said.

Problems at the hospital go deep, said Perry, the field representative for American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 93, which represents about 110 workers at Riverview, many of them mental health workers and recreation aides who are direct-care providers.

"We have major concerns about health and safety at Riverview, and we're trying to address them long-term," she said.

Data the Kennebec Journal received through a records request show the total number of injuries reported at Riverview is the highest it's been in three years, although lower than in years before that. Riverview officials say new safety measures are a reason for the decline.

People who work at the state forensic hospital and the unions representing them say the numbers don't tell the whole story. They cite increasingly brutal attacks, thrown in the spotlight by a March 16 assault in which Murphy, 47, formerly of York County, is accused of punching a Riverview worker and stabbing her with a pen.

The reported attack by Murphy also resulted in an immediate measure aimed at adding another layer of protection from patient violence. The Kennebec County Sheriff's Office has signed a new security deal with Riverview that puts county jail officers inside the hospital's forensic unit to monitor patients with a history of violence against staff.

The $81,400, two-month contract, formalized April 29, calls for the county to supply a corrections officer for three shifts a day for the next two months, and a longer contract is expected to be in place when a new fiscal year begins July 1.

In 2012, there were 37 OSHA-recordable injuries at Riverview, 23 of them categorized as client-related, according to Department of Health and Human Services data made available to the Kennebec Journal through a public records request. That injury total is the highest in three years -- there were 25 in 2011 and 31 in 2010 -- but it's also significantly fewer than the 53 recorded in 2009 and 48 in 2008.

Under U.S. Department of Labor regulations, OSHA-recordable injuries are those that result "in death, days away from work, restricted work or transfer to another job, medical treatment beyond first aid or loss of consciousness."

An investigator's report said the attack involving Murphy ended when patient Kirk Lambert intervened. The employee later had surgery to remove the pen's point from her hand.

On April 18, a Kennebec County grand jury indicted Murphy, who has a history of unprovoked attacks on staff, on two counts of elevated aggravated assault and one count of aggravated assault.

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