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Officials oppose extended federal oversight of 2 mental hospitals

In the wake of a scathing U.S. Justice Department report, California officials argue that new leaders have taken measures to improve patient care and safety at Napa State Hospital and Metropolitan State Hospital in Norwalk.

January 24, 2012|By Lee Romney, Los Angeles Times

California officials Monday filed documents in U.S. District Court opposing extended federal oversight of two state mental hospitals, arguing that new leaders have already taken measures to improve patient care and safety.

The state attorney general's filing came in response to a scathing U.S. Justice Department portrayal last month of Napa State Hospital and Metropolitan State Hospital in Norwalk. Federal attorneys faulted the hospitals for preventable suicides, nursing errors, improper use of restraints and unchecked violence.

At issue is whether U.S. District Judge Audrey B. Collins will indefinitely extend portions of a 2006 consent judgment out of concern for systemic failings at the two facilities that federal lawyers contend are life-threatening. A hearing on the matter is scheduled for Feb. 13. Atascadero State Hospital and Patton State Hospital in San Bernardino were released from oversight in November.

In Monday's filing, California Deputy Atty. Gen. George Prince argued that only a small number of deficiencies remain and that "substantial compliance has been achieved" with federal requirements.

The Department of Mental Health "is undergoing fundamental organizational restructuring" to improve clinical care, work more closely with hospital directors and address the increasingly violent nature of patients, most of whom have been arrested or convicted of crimes related to their mental illness, he wrote.

The filing points to a 25% decrease in assaults at Napa from September through November 2011, compared to the same period in 2010. Hospital police were redeployed two months ago to better patrol the fenced grounds, officials said, and a new alarm system will be in place by summer.

At both Napa and Metropolitan, officials said they are working to minimize flaws in nursing care and to address lapses that left patients more vulnerable to harming themselves or others. For instance, patients at Napa whose psychiatrists go on vacation are now assigned a substitute.

At Metropolitan, security in treatment areas and on hospital grounds has improved, and the number of patients on the most violent unit was reduced, the state contended.

leora.romney@latimes.com

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