August 30, 2017

Workers press Baker for metal detectors at mental health facilities

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Workers at inpatient mental health facilities have petitioned Gov. Charlie Baker to add metal detectors at seven state facilities.

Workers at inpatient mental health facilities around the state fear they lack specific infrastructure to keep everyone physically safe and now they are asking Gov. Charlie Baker to step in.

Two officials from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) hand-delivered to the governor's staff a petition signed by more than 1,100 workers asking for the installation of metal detectors at seven facilities.

"We need his intervention," Jim Durkin, director of legislation for AFSCME Council 93, told John Tapley, the governor's constituent services director, on Friday. Durkin said metal detectors would not completely solve security challenges at the facilities but they would be an "immediate first step."

The Department of Mental Health (DMH) is "carefully reviewing and updating its procedures to maintain a safe workplace and treatment environment for staff, patients and visitors," a Baker spokesman said on Tuesday.

Knives and other weapons have been smuggled into DMH facilities and a few months ago a patient used a pencil or pen to stab two workers at Taunton State Hospital, according to Joanne Cooke, president of AFSCME Local 72, who has photos of weapons found on campuses and photos of the wounds staff suffered from the attack earlier this year.

Cooke and Durkin worry that a patient prone to violence will obtain a weapon capable of seriously injuring someone at a mental health facility, posing a risk to staff, visitors and other patients.

"We can't wait any longer for this. It's only a matter of time, we believe, before a knife or a firearm falls into the hands of a patient and people are seriously injured or killed," Durkin said

While metal detectors are a common security measure at government buildings and airports, they are rarer in health care settings. Mental Health Commissioner Joan Mikula has tasked her department with looking into the costs associated with installing metal detectors and the department is also surveying staff about their safety concerns, according to an official.

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