77 ASH pa­tients have been with­out toi­lets for 9 days

The Tribune (SLO) - - Front Page - BY MATT FOUN­TAIN

Nearly 80 pa­tients at Atas­cadero State Hos­pi­tal have been with­out easy ac­cess to toi­lets and drink­ing wa­ter for nine days fol­low­ing a mas­sive sewer block­age, and staffers there tell The Tribune that con­di­tions are be­com­ing in­creas­ingly un­san­i­tary and tense.

In units with no run­ning toi­lets, each pa­tient has been pro­vided with por­ta­ble uri­nals, which con­trib­utes to messes and un­san­i­tary con­di­tions and re­quires staff to hand dump the uri­nals into a 5-gal­lon trash can, which in turn has to be dumped in a neigh­bor­ing unit.

“We have been just barely manag­ing,” said a staffer in one of the two af­fected units. “They are star­ing to un­ravel. It’s turn­ing into Lord of the Flies slowly.”

Ralph Mon­tano, a spokesman for the De­part­ment of State Hos­pi­tals, con­firmed Tues­day af­ter­noon that a con­trac­tor is cur­rently work­ing to re­pair a sewer line at the hos­pi­tal, which con­tains 34 units of male pa­tients who are fac­ing crim­i­nal charges and have been de­clared men­tally in­com­pe­tent to stand trial.

Mon­tano wrote in an email that there are 77 pa­tients in the two af­fected units. Those pa­tients, he wrote, are being pro­vided drink­ing wa­ter and ac­cess to cen­tral­ized re­strooms and neigh­bor­ing units for bath­room breaks and show­ers.

He con­firmed the sewer line prob­lem was iden­ti­fied April 14.

Asked about hy­gienic stan­dards on the af­fected units, Mon­tano said staff have been pro­vided hand san­i­tizer and dis­pos­able gloves. All staff are al­lowed to go off-unit to wash their hands as nec­es­sary to main­tain hy­gienic stan­dards, he said.


On Tues­day, two hos­pi­tal staffers af­fected by the out­age sep­a­rately dis­cussed the is­sue with The Tribune on con­di­tion their names re­main anony­mous be­cause they are not per­mit­ted to talk to the media.

Both said hos­pi­tal ad­min­is­tra­tion has dragged its heels in fix­ing the prob­lem, and only this week had ad­min­is­tra­tion dis­cussed the sit­u­a­tion with them in writ­ing.

On Mon­day — eight days af­ter the prob­lem be­gan — ASH As­sis­tant Hos­pi­tal Ad­min­is­tra­tor Pe­dro Henderson sent a mass email to em­ploy­ees about the sit­u­a­tion.

“We have ex­pe­ri­enced a ma­jor block­age of the main waste line, af­fect­ing both Units 25 and 26,” Henderson wrote. “Plant op­er­a­tions worked dili­gently through­out last week to un­block this line. Un­for­tu­nately, all con­ven­tional methods have failed up to this point.”

Henderson wrote that an out­side con­trac­tor was con­sulted Mon­day, “with no other methods of­fered be­yond what we have al­ready per­formed.”

“Ad­di­tional routes will be in­ves­ti­gated to­mor­row in the hope that a closer point of en­try to the block­age can be ob­tained,” he wrote. “We un­der­stand that this is a hard­ship for both staff and pa­tients. We ap­pre­ci­ate your pa­tience with this sit­u­a­tion as well as your pos­i­tive attitude and will­ing­ness to work with us, through this trying time.”


But both staffers say things are reach­ing a boil­ing point. In the af­fected units, staff has to es­cort most pa­tients to another unit to use re­strooms, brush teeth, or take show­ers, they said. Some pa­tients who would have show­ered ev­ery other day are now show­er­ing ev­ery three days.

Aside from routine ac­ci­dents that re­quire wa­ter to clean up, pa­tients are also hav­ing “ac­ci­dents” in their uri­nals, or knock­ing them over.

“Things are get­ting a lit­tle gamey,” one staffer said.

Both shared con­cerns about the pa­tients in the af­fected units, which all take some sort of psy­chotropic med­i­ca­tion and de­pend on routine. While it felt like camp the first few days, one em­ployee said, things are start­ing to get tense and some pa­tients are get­ting ag­gres­sive.

The em­ploy­ees said Cal-OSHA has been no­ti­fied. One said that the fa­cil­ity may be com­ply­ing “within the let­ter of the law” of its state reg­u­la­tions. The other said they sus­pect cor­ners are being cut and ad­min­is­tra­tion is not tak­ing the prob­lem se­ri­ously.

“We feel like we’re get­ting lip ser­vice,” the em­ployee said.

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