Sunday, January 29, 2006

Case Worker's Death Spurs Safety Campaign in Washington

Last November, Marty Smith, a crisis responder for the Washington State mental-health system, was beaten to death while attempting to hospitalize a schizophrenic client who had not been taking his medication. Smith was working alone that night, a common practice among mental health and social service workers.

Now Smith's union, SEIU 1199NW, is organizing to pass Marty's Law: Make Our Work Safer. (HB 2921) Marty's Law would provide funding so clinicians can work in pairs when they are sent to evaluate a client in a private residence. The bill also requires clinicians to be provided with cell phones, prompt access to patient records, and training on violence prevention.

Marty's law is part of the Campaign for Quality Mental Health Care. A poll conducted by SEIU followign Marty Smith's death found that Washington state’s mental health system has failed to provide a safe working environment, sufficient training, or enough support to its workers.
  • In the last two years, caseloads and the complexity of individual client conditions have increased.
  • 75% of community mental health workers report feeling unsafe on the job.
  • 78% of community mental health workers have been assaulted either verbally, physically or both; fully 22% report
  • being physically assaulted in the last two years.
  • 42% of community mental health workers feel they don’t have adequate backup when safety is threatened.
  • 44% of community mental health workers feel they don’t have sufficient training to deal with safety issues.