Union denied restraining order against hiring subcontractors at troubled psychiatric hospital

- Attorneys representing psychiatrists and the administration that operates Alameda County's beleaguered John George Psychiatric Emergency Room fought over a restraining order on hiring Wednesday.

‘2 Investigates’ first obtained undercover video from inside the San Leandro facility in May to show deplorable conditions that included patients forced to sleep on the floor due to a lack of bed space. Newly obtained undercover video from the last few days shows conditions haven't changed much, with patients still sleeping on the floor.

Staff members have long complained they're often overwhelmed and can't meet patient demand putting their safety and that of their patients at risk.

In Alameda County Superior Court in Hayward Wednesday an attorney representing John George told Judge Scott Patton he agreed overcrowding was an issue and that justified hiring from an outside contractor.

"With this increased patient census there is a significant number of unfilled shifts every month. As late as May 24th in 2016 the June schedule had nearly 40 unfilled shifts," said attorney Gilbert Tse.

The solution according to Alameda Health Service, or AHS, is to contract out to a private company to provide additional psychiatrists.

"There's really no choice for AHS for patient safety and for the safety of its employees but to contract out some of those services," Tse said.

The attorney for the union representing the doctors at John George came to court seeking a restraining order to prevent AHS from bringing in outside doctors, arguing it puts the current doctor's jobs in jeopardy.

"This isn't just about filling additional emergency services. Rather, this is about sub contracting out bargaining unit work," said Sarah Grossman Swenson. "These psychiatrists will be cancelled from work they are scheduled to do."

Outside the courtroom doctors told KTVU the change gives AHS a chance to muzzle dissent because the new doctors could be fired at will.

"Doctors that are represented and can not be terminated at will speak out at times when they see something done wrong by the institution and many things have been done wrong by the institution," Dr. Milton Lorig told KTVU.

Fellow John George psychiatrist Dr. David Schatz told KTVU the move to hire a private company to replace the current doctors has been brewing for some time.

"They've been trying to do this for two years and create this crisis. AHS itself is the reason all these patients are suffering. You've seen on the videos and then they try to use that as an argument to justify what's going on."

At the end of the hearing the judge ruled in favor of Alameda Health Service. Judge Scott Patton said of AHS, "They're not trying to replace services. They're trying to provide services that are not currently being performed because of staffing shortages."

The doctors say they still have a chance to make their case at a future hearing through arbitration.

Dr. Lorig referred to the undercover video shown by KTVU, saying his biggest concern is ending the cramped and dismal conditions inside John George.

"It's also a very demoralizing, inhumane way to be treated and so these are already people in crisis. It's not going to make their crisis feel better to be in the conditions we see in the video."

Late Wednesday John George provided this statement:

"We are pleased with the court's decision and are eager to continue our efforts with UAPD (Union of American Physicians and Dentists) or other contractual arrangement to provide adequate staffing of psychiatrists at JGPH (John George Psychiatric Hospital) to increase our ability to assess patients needs for psychiatric services; connect them with the appropriate behavioral health services and reduce the incidences of extended wait times for psychiatric emergencies services."  

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