INDEPENDENCE — Three staff members at the Independence Mental Health Institute have been injured by the same patient over the past two weeks, according to the union that represents them — which it says is the result of inappropriate staffing levels.
“The first incident resulted in two staff members being rushed to the emergency room,” Danny Homan, president of American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees Iowa Council 61, said in an emailed statement. “The second resulted in injuries simply due to the fact that insufficient staff was available to respond and assist the staff member while she was being assaulted.”
The AFSCME Iowa Council 61 represents 40,000 public employees including law enforcement and correctional officers, firefighters, mental health workers, professional school staff and emergency responders, among other workers.
“Appropriate placement also has been a continuing issue at our mental health institutes and resource centers,” Homan continued. “The patient who attacked multiple staff at Independence MHI was transferred from a private facility ... no longer able to handle his violent behavior. There should have been a period of consideration by the state to determine whether or not his behavior pattern could be appropriately handled at Independence MHI, given their staff shortages.”
Amy McCoy, spokeswoman for the Department of Human Services — which oversees the two state mental health institutes — said she is not aware of any staffing shortages and believes there are only a small number of vacant positions.
“Unfortunately, assaults do happen from time to time at the facilities," she said. "And it’s one of the risks with these positions, but we are always trying to making sure that we have policies and procedures in place that can best protect our staff. The safety of patients and staff is our highest priority. Sometimes we do have very difficult individuals who do get placed at mental health institutes.”
McCoy said she does not have details about the incidents, but she did not believe any ambulances were called.
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“People may choose to visit the emergency room” rather than visit on-site medical staff, she said.