CAMARILLO — Setting the stage for the closure of Camarillo State Hospital, state officials signed an agreement Monday with the hospital's largest labor union that will allow hundreds of psychiatric technicians to transfer with their clients to other treatment centers as the local facility shuts down.
The agreement--hammered out between the 600-member California Assn. of Psychiatric Technicians and the state departments of Mental Health and Developmental Services--will ensure that a job is available for every technician who wants one by the time the hospital closes this summer.
Moreover, in an effort to maintain the quality of care for Camarillo State patients, the state is offering a $2,600 bonus to employees who follow their clients to other state facilities.
With Camarillo due to shut down June 30, the agreement lays a foundation for similar negotiations between the state and the hospital's other bargaining units.
And it comes at a time when many employees, patients and their families are growing anxious about where they will end up once the 60-year-old mental hospital closes its doors.
"In terms of the employees, we hope this will give them a sense of security knowing they are going to have positions to go to," said Betti Dolezal, chief labor negotiator for the state Department of Developmental Services in Sacramento.
"And in terms of the clients, it's key to keep them feeling comfortable about the move," Dolezal added. "We want to ensure a smooth transition for the developmentally disabled and mentally ill populations we serve."
Since Gov. Pete Wilson ordered the shuttering of the state hospital a year ago, employees have awaited word on transfers to other state facilities.
Most Camarillo State patients are destined for Porterville Developmental Center in Porterville, Fairview Developmental Center in Costa Mesa and Metropolitan State Hospital in Norwalk.
More than 300 workers, uncertain of their fate, already have taken other jobs, leaving some hospital wards so depleted that retirees and staff from other facilities have been recruited to help keep the place running.
More than 100 psychiatric technicians, the employees who work most closely with patients, were among those who found work elsewhere.
The uncertainty also affected the parents of Camarillo State patients, causing some to worry about the quality of care their children would receive at other state institutions.
"In many cases, those technicians have been working with the same clients for their entire careers," said John Chase, spokesman for the Green Line Parents Group, a nonprofit support network at Camarillo. "Many of us consider them part of our families. Having the technicians at other facilities is going to make things so much better for all of us, I just wish they had done this some time ago before they lost so many technicians."
Under the agreement signed Monday, psychiatric technicians will have seven days to sign up for transfers to other facilities. A list of open jobs and treatment centers has been posted at the hospital, said union chief Brian Bowley, who flew to Sacramento on Monday to add his name to the labor agreement.
Union officials have scheduled meetings for 1:30 and 4:30 p.m. Wednesday to discuss the closure plan with employees and answer any questions.
"We're very pleased with this agreement," said Bowley, who is a senior psychiatric technician at Camarillo. "It was very important for our people to, first of all, know that they had a job and know where they were going to go. But it was also important to know that they were going to be able to work with their own clients."