2 Investigates: Nurses say John George mental patients tried to incite riot

Nurses at Alameda County’s embattled mental hospital say three patients tried to incite a riot overnight and escape the facility. Staff members are blaming chronic overcrowding at John George Psychiatric Hospital’s emergency room. It’s the latest in a string of troubling incidents at the hospital uncovered by 2 Investigates.

Nurses – who didn’t want to be identified for fear of jeopardizing their jobs – tell 2 Investigates that two male patients and one woman demanded to be discharged from John George’s Psychiatric Emergency Services (PES) department Sunday night. But when they were refused, they turned violent, according to staff.

The patients allegedly tried to encourage others to help them push the facility doors open to escape. Nurses tell 2 Investigates the incident resulted in four assaults – two between patients, and two between patients and staff. Nobody injured in the altercations required medical attention, according to staff who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

2Investigates first exposed questionable conditions at John George four months ago. Leaked undercover video revealed patients sleeping and eating on mats on the floor when there weren’t enough beds. Several staff members also told KTVU that they feel unsafe at work because of the overcrowding, and that they believe patient safety is also at risk.

Staff members say on Sunday night the number of patients in PES peaked at 81, and they were forced to stop taking transfers from other hospitals. They also say the Fire Marshall posted a new sign last week capping the total occupancy for the building at 112, including patients, staff, and security. Nurses say they came dangerously close to that number on Sunday night.

According to Alameda Health Systems (AHS), which runs John George, the average number of patients at PES has stayed around 50 or lower for the last few months.

The staff has said they want to cap the number of patients in PES at 50, but administrators say that would lead to back-ups and longer waits at other emergency rooms around the county. Nurses say they are still negotiating with hospital officials about the idea.

Since 2 Investigates began looking into the claims and conditions at the psychiatric hospital, the Alameda County Board of Supervisors’ Health Committee has held two meetings demanding answers from AHS administration. Board members will take up the issue again at their next meeting on September 13.

In the meantime, AHS has hired privately contracted doctors to ease the staffing crunch and has presented other long- and short-term solutions to the overcrowding problem, including diverting patients to other local resources, and a multi-million dollar expansion proposal that stalled three years ago.

2 Investigates reached out to John George administration on Monday night, but they were unable to confirm the account of Sunday night’s incident shared by staff members. According to AHS’s public relations representative, the hospital’s director Guy Qvistgaard was not aware of the incident and could not comment.

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