[June 26, 2013] LONG BEACH, CA – Healthcare workers seeking to protect patients at a Long Beach mental health facility, decrease violence and preserve public safety in surrounding neighborhoods, walked off the job today at 4 p.m. for the start of a five-day unfair labor practice strike over management’s failure to bargain in good faith over these and other issues.
The La Casa Mental Health Rehabilitation Center has drawn criticism for its lax safety measures that contribute to patients escaping regularly, and employees being injured after violent altercations with patients. During a three-year period ending March 2013, the Long Beach Police Department responded to more than 230 calls at the facility – nearly two a week – and last month one patient escaped and later died the same day at a nearby hospital.
“The last thing we wanted to do was strike, but the company was unwilling to bargain in good faith and protect the safety of patients, employees, and the public,” said Neilanie Besana, a Licensed Vocational Nurse at La Casa. “The facility is out of control and the company doesn’t seem to care whether patients are assaulting one another, injuring staff members, or escaping into area neighborhoods. Patient and community safety seem to be one of the company’s last priorities.”
La Casa management has refused to bargain in good faith on a range of issues, including an effort by employees to improve training and safety measures, such as hiring an onsite security guard and erecting a Plexiglas barrier around the nursing station. In April 2013, one worker ended up in the emergency room after being knocked unconscious by a patient.
Striking workers are supported by state, county, and local elected officials who are concerned about conditions at the Long Beach facility, and have urged Telecare to promptly resolve the strike. These officials include State Senator Ricardo Lara of Los Angeles; Assemblymember Anthony Rendon of Los Angeles; and Long Beach City Councilmembers Steve Neal and Patrick O’Donnell.
“I am concerned about the conditions at La Casa, as they potentially pose a risk not just to workers and patients, but also to the greater community,” said Long Beach City Councilmember Steve Neal. “I am particularly concerned about the inadequate security protocols in place to mitigate any potential impacts on our neighborhood. It is especially concerning, given that the company, Telecare, operates facilities in Northern California where they take security far more seriously.”
Workers have also called on the County of Los Angeles to intervene and hold La Casa accountable. Under an agreement between the County of Los Angeles and La Casa, the county pays the facility nearly $450 per patient for every day of care, an amount totaling $18.3 million in 2012, and more than $54 million since 2010. In order to receive county funding, La Casa must take patients – including those with a history of violence – who previously stayed at Twin Towers Correctional Facility or Metropolitan State Hospital.
La Casa is owned by Telecare, an Alameda, California-based private company which has more than 2,200 employees in six states, and reported net patient revenue of $186 million in 2011.