Union leader criticizes policy prohibiting mental health staff from reporting assaults immediately

Current policy requires employees to wait until end of shift to report assaults

Erin Jordan
Published: January 13 2014 | 1:44 pm - Updated: 29 March 2014 | 2:02 am in

A union leader spoke out Monday against a policy prohibiting state mental health staff from filing immediate police reports for on-the-job assaults.

The Gazette reported Sunday that employees at the Mental Health Institute in Independence were injured by patients nearly 70 times last year, with half of those injuries considered assaults.

The Department of Human Services, which oversees the facility, has a policy forbidding injured employees from filing police reports during their shifts.

“They should be able to file a police report then and there,” AFSCME President Danny Homan said Monday. “That might be the reason people are hesitant to file reports. That’s just wrong.”

Homan also expressed concern that injured MHI employees might be treated in house. “That’s like the fox taking care of the chicken coop,” he said. “If I was working there, I wouldn’t let a single doctor at MHI touch me.”

Homan said he planned to talk with Curt Salow, an MHI employee and leader of AFSCME local 2987, about the DHS policy.

The Independence MHI, with 75 beds for adults and juveniles, is one of Iowa’s four mental health facilities that provide short-term psychiatric treatment for severe mental illness. About 90 percent of the patients last year were committed involuntarily, which means a court determines they are a danger to themselves or others.

Assault charges filed in Buchanan County show a handful of adult MHI patients committing numerous attacks on patients and staff. Juvenile patients have also injured staff, employees say, because an unwritten hands-off policy leaves employees defenseless.

Rick Shults, mental health and disability services division administrator for DHS, said MHI staff are provided medical care when injured on the job, but that they are required to wait until their shift is over to report an assault.

“We certainly do not discourage individuals from pursuing their legal options,” Shults said last week.

Immediate reporting is valuable for law enforcement officers because memories of the incident are fresher and wounds, such as a bruise or teeth marks, are still visible, Cedar Rapids Police Sgt. Cristy Hamblin said. Evidence of injury usually means a more serious charge.

“It’s better for the system to report it right away,” she said.

Employees injured at MHI are required to complete a written account of what happened, which should help with their memory of the incident when going to police, Shults said.

Most of the MHI injuries caused by patients were minor, DHS reported, with only seven referred for evaluation for workers compensation.

One claim is before the Workers Compensation Commissioner, who resolves disputes between employees and employers. Miranda Mohr was injured Dec. 15, 2012, while working at MHI. She continues to suffer from back, shoulder and neck pain as well as mental suffering after she was attacked by a patient, the claim states.

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