SAN LEANDRO, Calif. (KTVU) - Workers at Alameda County's beleagured John George Psychiatric Facility called for change as California Health officials launched an investigation into the facility following a KTVU report that highlighted overcrowded and dangerous conditions.
KTVU reported last week the PES, or psychiatric emergency services room, often has as many as 70 or 80 patients in a space built to accomodate 23. Undercover video obtained by KTVU shows patients eating and sleeping on the floor because there's not enough bed space or even chairs for patients to rest.
The crowded conditions have exacerbated agitated and mentally unbalanced patients who are brought there by emergency workers because they're deemed dangers to themselves or others.
"I've been kicked most recently and punched, assaulted. I've had urine thrown on me," one staff member told KTVU on condition we not reveal his identity.
Former patients have also contacted KTVU to tell of hellish conditions.
"I just can't say enough to say how scary this place was," said one former patient, who requested her identity be withheld.
"You're in this room with, not six people. You're in there with every possible space of the floor covered with people who are drug or alcohol addicted. I was in there because I was depressed."
Wednesday the state of California told KTVU it's now looking at the situation at John George, saying in part
"Representatives from the Department of Health Care Services... visited John George Psychiatric Hospital... last week. News reports of incidents at John George's PES program were of concern to the department."
John George nurse Ruby Sloan was one of several employees who gathered outside Highland Hospital in
Oakland Wednesday ahead of a meeting of John George administrators.
"We do the best we can with the tools we have to work with but the overcrowding is not OK," she told KTVU.
Fellow nurse Troy Nixon said staff members are getting tired of bringing up the same safety concerns time after time.
"We have been here. We have brought the same issues to them that we have today and yet nothing has changed. It is frustrating because people are getting hurt."
Administrators wouldn't speak on camera but issued a statement Wednesday that said in part:
"...occasional overcrowding occurs. When this happens, we take steps to immediately reduce the volumes and provide additional care, such as calling in additional physicians..."
Employees say they're speaking out publicly, despite the risks.
"Those of who are talking, even myself included, yeah we are at risk for retaliation," said Nixon.
Asked if he was worried about his job, Nixon told KTVU "I am but I'm more worried about my patients."
KTVU also learned of an alleged rape that took place inside the John George facility sometime overnight Tuesday. Alameda County Sheriff's officials confirmed deputies responded to a sexual assault call and took one person into custody. They said the victim underwent a rape kit test and was shown to have had sexual activity.
However, the woman later recanted her story and said the sex was consensual. A sheriff's spokesman said the woman is suffering a mental condition and it's not clear if an attack occured or not. If the act was consensual, it still raises questions over how it could have happened in a facility where all the patients are supposed to be monitored.
If there in fact was a crime, a sheriff's spokesman said the mentally ill suspect would not be taken to the Santa Rita Jail, but back to John George, raising further questions about the safety of the potential victim.
We'll post an update to this story Wednesday evening.