Minn. state security hospital workers seek freer restraint policy

Published 9:55 am Thursday, July 30, 2015

ST. PETER — Union workers at the state hospital that houses 373 of Minnesota’s most violent and mentally ill patients want more freedom to use restraints amid recent incidents resulting in injuries to staff members.

At Minnesota Security Hospital in St. Peter, the number of injuries suffered by staff so far this year is unprecedented, according to officials with Officials with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union Local 404. At least 68 hospital staffers have been injured on the job this year, including two who suffered concussions, according to Minnesota Occupational Safety and Health Administration records.

The union’s request follows a recent assault at the facility in which a security counselor was hospitalized for severe head injuries, according to a press release.

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A 16-year-old patient is accused of grabbing the counselor by her hair, bashing her head against a wall and repeatedly kicking her in the head.

Workers should be able to use mobile restraints, such as padded leather cuffs attached to a belt, when a patient acts violently, said AFSCME spokeswoman Jennifer Munt.

“We’re now told that we can use the (restraint) chair but we cannot use the padded cuffs,” she said, adding: “What the law permits and what’s actually being implemented is inconsistent.”

Three years ago, the hospital was put on a conditional license for the overuse of seclusion and restraint.

Current policy at the hospital lists mobile restraints and a number of other mechanical restraints as tools for keeping patients from hurting themselves and others.

The policy allows workers to use restraints in self-defense but not as punishment. But in the past, the hospital commonly used mobile restraints while patients were in protective isolation, which sometimes lasted for weeks or months.

“What some of our staff are wondering is if we can return to the previous practice in which mobile restraints were used for long periods of time in the absence of imminent risk,” said Steven Pratt, executive medical director for behavioral health at the Department of Human Services, who oversees the security hospital.

The policy also is complicated by the definition of imminent risk, which Munt believes is subjective, and the hospital’s inability to retrain developmentally disabled patients, when some of them also have mental illnesses that can cause violent behavior, she said.

Minnesota Security Hospital currently has 54 vacant counselor positions and filling those openings would help reduce the number of staff injuries, according to AFSCME officials.