[October 3, 2013] LONG BEACH, Calif. – Healthcare workers at a mental health facility in Long Beach heralded the approval of their first union contract today after an 18-month struggle to improve the safety of workers, patients and community residents. Under the two-year agreement, the employees who are members of SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West (SEIU-UHW) will finally have a strong voice to address safety concerns at La Casa Mental Health Rehabilitation Center.
“This is an important step toward improving care and security at the hospital, and we look forward to working with management to address these safety issues,” said Neilanie Besana, a Licensed Vocational Nurse at La Casa Mental Health Rehabilitation Center. “I became a nurse to help people, and this agreement makes me more determined than ever to provide the best care for our patients.”
Longstanding worker requests such as improved training and safety measures – hiring an on-site security officer and erecting a Plexiglas barrier around the nursing station – will be addressed through the formation of a safety committee co-chaired by workers and management.
In June, workers went on a five-day strike at the facility to raise awareness about recurring safety issues, including patients regularly escaping and employees being injured after violent altercations with patients. Their efforts drew support from federal, state, county and local elected officials, including U.S. Rep. Janice Hahn (D – San Pedro); Senator Ricardo Lara (D – Bell Gardens); Assemblymembers Bonnie Lowenthal (D – Long Beach) and Anthony Rendon (D – Lakewood); and Long Beach City Councilmembers Steve Neal and Patrick O’Donnell.
Workers hope their new contract will inspire employees at another area mental health facility that is plagued by violence and disorder – College Hospital in Cerritos. That facility has recorded multiple patient escapes, sexual assaults, attacks on staff and suspicious patient deaths over the last five years.
“We understand the struggle of healthcare workers at College Hospital Cerritos to draw attention to the unsafe conditions at their facility,” said Tony Gann, a Mental Health Worker at La Casa Mental Health Rehabilitation Center. “We know well how it feels to come to work in an unsafe environment where management doesn’t seem to care about protecting employees, patients, or the community but we want our example to motivate them that they can prevail, too.”
La Casa is owned by Telecare Corporation, 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.