Workers Call on College Hospital to Protect Patients, Staff

Assemblymember Bonnie Lowenthal speaks in support of protecting patients and staff at College Hospital.

Assemblymember Bonnie Lowenthal speaks in support of protecting patients and staff at College Hospital.

[Dec. 17, 2013] CERRITOS, Calif. – Workers at a mental health hospital in Cerritos called on the owner today to implement more safety measures in the wake of reports of patient deaths, sexual assaults and escapes. They were joined at the rally by Assemblymember Bonnie Lowenthal (D-Long Beach) and the families of two former patients who died at the hospital, including one that has a pending wrongful death lawsuit.

College Hospital Cerritos had one patient die this month after suffering a seizure and two others reported being sexually assaulted. In addition, employees have suffered serious injuries after violent altercations with patients, and other workers reported being sexually harassed by a supervisor.

“Patients and workers shouldn’t have to fear for their safety or well-being but try telling that to the families who lost loved ones at College Hospital or the employees who were stabbed on the job,” said Chris Mills, a licensed vocational nurse at the facility. “We have asked management to do more to protect the safety of patients and workers but we’re still waiting for them to make changes.”

Currently, the facility is under investigation by county, state, and federal officials for alleged safety and care violations, including discharging homeless patients without offering them assistance for housing, transportation, or medical care. In 2009, College Hospital paid a $1.6 million fine for dumping homeless patients on Skid Row in downtown Los Angeles. Agencies investigating College Hospital include the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health, the California Department of Public Health, Cal/OSHA and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

At the rally, the families of two patients who died at College Hospital shared their stories and frustration about the inadequate care their loved ones received. An attorney representing Augustine Liu’s family discussed the wrongful death lawsuit they filed following their son’s death there in 2009, a case that is still pending.

Kathleen Post told how her sister Jennifer Collins was admitted to College Hospital in late 2010 but ended up in the emergency room after being found with ten times the normal amount of medication in her system. Post said during her sister’s three-month stay at College, Collins developed heart and muscle conditions that she didn’t have before being admitted. In January 2011, she died from what doctors at College Hospital said was a heart attack. Post disputed the cause of her sister’s death and requested an autopsy by the Los Angeles County Coroner, which concluded that Collins had died of a blood clot to the lung.

Workers also detailed how the hospital has been unsafe or threatening for them. Tom Sciarra, a former College Hospital employee, described how he was stabbed on the job in January 2012 by a patient who was arrested for attempted murder. While on disability leave, Sciarra was fired from his job; something he learned only after his health provider said his coverage had been dropped. He has a lawsuit pending against the hospital.

To improve safety conditions at College Hospital, employees have asked management to provide better staff training, increase staffing levels to allow more one-to-one monitoring of high risk patients, and to provide employees with emergency alert devices.

Over a three-year period ending in February 2013, the Los Angeles County Sheriff received more than 230 calls from College Hospital, including:

  • 2 patient deaths;
  • 2 patient-on-patient sexual assaults;
  • 19 patient escapes;
  • 17 patient-on-patient assaults;
  • 4 patient-on-staff assaults; and
  • 6 patients who stopped breathing.

College Hospital Cerritos is a 187-bed facility for youth and adults who are developmentally disabled and mentally ill. The hospital opened in 1973 and is owned by the Barry Weiss family, which owns another psychiatric hospital in Costa Mesa and many Los Angeles area nursing homes.

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