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Long Beach mental care workers plan strike, saying facility is unsafe

June 26, 2013|By Ruben Vives

Healthcare union workers at a Long Beach mental health facility are scheduled to hold an “unfair labor strike” Wednesday afternoon in response to what they say are unsafe working conditions.

The five-day strike is expected to end Monday, according to the United Healthcare Workers West.

Union workers say lax safety measures at La Casa Mental Rehabilitation Center have contributed to patients escaping regularly and commiting violent attacks against employees and other patients.

La Casa is a 190-bed center that is operated by Telecare Corp., an Alameda-based private company which has 2,400 employees and manages more than 60 mental health programs in multiple states, according to the company’s website.

In March, the Long Beach Police Department responded to more than 230 calls at the facility, the union said. The next month, a worker was taken to the emergency room after being knocked unconscious by a patient, the union said.

For the last few months, La Casa employees have been negotiating a labor contract with Telecare Corp. They have asked that safety measures at the facility be improved by adding an onsite security guard and a Plexiglas barrier around the nursing station to protect workers. But they say their requests have been denied.

“The last thing we wanted to do is strike,” said Tony Gann, a La Casa employee. "The facility is out of control and the company doesn’t seem to care whether patients are assaulting one another, injuring staff members, or escaping into area neighborhoods.”

Union officials have also reached out to Long Beach and Los Angeles County officials to intervene.

As part of an agreement with Los Angeles County, the facility receives $450 per patient for every day of care, an amount totaling to $18.3 million in 2012 and more than $54 million since 2010, according to the union.

The organization says that in order for the facility to receive county funding it must take patients who previously stayed at Twin Towers Correctional Facility or Metropolitan State Hospital.

"Telecare is disappointed to have received a strike notice from SEIU-UHW given that we have been engaged in good faith negotiations for some time and have tentative agreements on a large number of contract items," said Dan Danzig, a company spokesman.

"We look forward to resolving outstanding items...However, management is prepared to assure that clients receive all necessary services and continued excellent care regardless of any labor actions."

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Twitter: @latvives

ruben.vives@latimes.com

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