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Patient’s death renews longtime union concerns BRONX — The recent murder of a patient by another patient at the Bronx Psychiatric Center renewed longstanding concerns among CSEA activists employed at the center. A 19-year-old individual recently strangled a 51-year-old individual with an electrical cord following a dispute. The assailant was charged with second-degree murder. “The facility was aware of the deficiencies and things they needed to do to provide these individuals with the proper environment,” said Bronx Psychiatric Center Local President Abraham Benjamin. ‘Frightening and depressing’ Benjamin described the incident as “frightening and depressing.” “We’re here to help individuals and it has had a very negative effect on our staff,” he said. Following the incident, Benjamin immediately requested an emergency meeting with management to discuss a number of issues, including staffing, grief counseling and the restoration of a secure treatment unit. While staff have not been implicated in this incident, Benjamin has repeatedly raised awareness of the dangers posed by low staffing levels. That was also the case in 2010 when the center laid off nearly 30 workers. At the time, it had the highest number of incidents among state Office of Mental Health facilities, as well as a substantial number of lost workdays due to job injuries. It still has among the highest incidents of workplace injuries in the state. As a result of the meeting, management has raised the minimum night shift staff on the wards from three to four, including a nurse. They are also in the process of hiring about a dozen more mental health therapy aides. Need for workers “They actually need about 22 mental health therapy aides,” said Benjamin, since many of the workers who were laid off haven’t been replaced. “CSEA continues to press for a secure treatment unit so that our difficult patients can be stabilized and the other patients can have a safer and more cohesive therapeutic environment,” said Benjamin, also a secure treatment aide. The facility hasn’t had such a unit in more than a decade. The facility has also started offering grief counseling for staff. And while some accommodations have been made, the union continues to work for a better and safer environment for individuals and staff. “It’s a day-by-day situation,” said Benjamin. “We have to remind them (management) of what just happened. It’s still a work in progress.” — David Galarza From left, Activist Donna Eagle, Bronx Psychiatric Center Local President Abraham Benjamin, and activist Roslyn Akinware, stand outside the psychiatric facility, which they say need more staff to help protect patients and workers. Fight to save Sagamore Children’s Psychiatric Center continues The ongoing fight to preserve the unique services provided at Sagamore Children’s Psychiatric Center on Long Island continues. Strong support in the state Legislature coupled with community pressure will keep services and bed capacity in place for the short term while CSEA and allies work for a secure future. State Sens. Phil Boyle and John Flanagan have been outspoken in their opposition to the state Office of Mental Health reducing bed capacity and undermine services at the facility. Sagamore is the only public children’s inpatient facility serving Long Island’s population of more than 3 million people. OMH has only reluctantly honored an agreement made last spring to preserve the quality and level of mental health services at Sagamore. CSEA Long Island Developmental Center/Sagamore Local President Pete Marriott and Local Vice President Jennifer Colon have led efforts to strengthen community support. They have repeatedly raised concerns about sufficient staffing levels. “We believe OMH should honor their agreement to protect patients, their families and our community,” said CSEA Long island Region President Nick LaMorte. “And we truly appreciate the steadfast support of Phil Boyle, John Flanagan and various community organizations as they fight along with us to preserve the invaluable public services offered at Sagamore.” — Rich Impagliazzo February 2015 The Work Force 9


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