Sep 25th, 2018
Before your 7 a.m. shift, you leave your phone and keys in a locker and shuffle into the dark, damp hallways that make up Fulton State Hospital. As an employee who works 12-hour long shifts, the scenery never leaves your mind: The dilapidated structure, too low drop-down ceilings and sharp corners can be equally as daunting as some of the more dangerous residents.
Fulton State Hospital is the oldest maximum-security mental institution west of the Mississippi River. Today it houses the state’s most dangerous and criminally insane. Residents range anywhere from those with personality disorders to sex offenders. Fulton State Hospital aims to rehabilitate its residents with its most-important rule of kindness. Employees are encouraged to be friendly with the residents, as they should be.
We understand and support the climate of kindness that Fulton State Hospital strives to achieve. There is a need in Missouri for effective and empathetic treatment for those living with mental illness and the treatment and services provided by Fulton State Hospital is commendable. The employees of this facility are working a very difficult job and are helping people in dire need. These employees are interested in helping people and have a commitment to supporting people suffering from mental illness.
However, the employees of Fulton State Hospital are walking into what is one of the most dangerous work places in the state of Missouri. Employees can expect to be spat on, punched, kicked, pummeled and even stabbed. For my Fulton State Hospital clients, this is a grim reality. Despite the threat of being attacked, this facility is not a prison. Employees cannot defend themselves in any way, as a corrections officer may be allowed. One of my clients was written up for simply putting her hands on her hips to brace herself from an aggressive resident. While it is understandable that mental health patients deserve compassionate treatment, the philosophy at the hospital equates to staff injury on a remarkably large scale.
Employees are provided with a variety of safeguards that only offer a false sense of comfort. There are paddings that one can hold up during an attack to brace themselves, but they are heavy, awkward to hold and impractical to lug around. They are encouraged to douse their hair with lotion to make it too slippery to grab ahold of. Identification lanyards are made to snap in two different places to prevent strangulation. The employees are practically responsible for their own safety. Hardly any of these methods prevent “patient-on-staff” attacks and injuries, and the statistics support this.
One in 23 state employees file work comp claims, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. At Fulton State Hospital, one in three employees will file a claim. I have yet to meet a client who does not have more than one injury. Many times, someone will not come to see me until they have had several injuries, and after they decided not to report many of them, for fear of retaliation.
After their injury, most employees are put on light duty or sent home. If they are out of work more than 90 days due to their injury, they are immediately terminated. The facility actually fires employees while they are recovering for serious injuries suffered at the hands of the patients. This is the most alarming reality of working at Fulton State Hospital. An employee is afraid to report injury and assaults because they may be terminated as a result.
This winter, Fulton State Hospital will reveal its newly-renovated facility. The hospital’s new features – shorter hallways, electronic access cards, and sunshine-filled windows – are meant to make the employees safer. Several of my clients who have been Fulton State Hospital employees suggest this simply isn’t true. I’m told that, because nothing procedural in how employees interact with residents will change, employees won’t be any safer.
By the time it’s time to clock out at 7 p.m., you’ve likely been hurt, or had to run or duck to avoid being hurt. You have worked a 12-hour shift where every hour you were looking over your shoulder, running to help an injured coworker, or sitting with tension and fear. You clock out thinking, “Well, at least I survived another shift,” even if you walk out with a black eye, or worse, a concussion.
I want every Fulton State Hospital employee to know that I am aware of their situation, that I have represented hundreds of their friends and colleagues, and that I am committed to getting the best treatment and benefits for every single person that is brave enough to call this place their employer. You have a case. You have a right to help. You have a right to get better. You have a right to compensation. No one understands this better than Kiefer Law Office.
Call my office, and set up a consultation or conference call. I know you have limited time as you work 12-hour shifts. Give us a call and I will make the time to talk, whenever that time is most convenient for you. It’s time you had a voice, and I am ready to be your advocate.
— Christine Kiefer, Attorney, Kiefer Law Office LLC.