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In Pandemic, Workers Question Safety at Western State Hospital

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Western State Hospital staff want more screening after a patient tested positive for coronavirus last week. (WFSE)
Western State Hospital staff want more screening after a patient tested positive for coronavirus last week. (WFSE)
March 23, 2020

LAKEWOOD, Wash. -- Some workers at Washington state's psychiatric facility near Tacoma are growing increasingly concerned about the health of patients and themselves during the novel coronavirus outbreak.

Mike Yestramski, a psychiatric social worker at Western State Hospital and president of the Washington Federation of State Employees, says the hospital staff is scared and doesn't feel there's enough transparency from managers about how they're keeping people safe. Last week, a patient tested positive for the virus.

"We actually had a nurse who was working with the patient who tested positive -- called in, was describing her symptoms and was told to come in anyway," he relates. "Thankfully, she refused."

Last week, it was also revealed that an employee tested positive for the coronavirus, although the Department of Social and Health Services says that person hasn't been at work since March 8.

The hospital has started screening staff members before their shifts and will put restrictions on visitors, according to Sean Murphy, DSHS assistant secretary of the Behavioral Health Administration.

Yestramski describes staff members as being "frustrated" by the level of screening. They also want the hospital to suspend non-emergency transportation.

Yestramski maintains workers aren't getting the support they need right now from hospital administrators.

"They're really feeling kind of abandoned by their management," he states. "There's words of a commitment to safety from management, but there hasn't been actions."

Despite the challenges, Yestramski adds that workers are doing their jobs.

"Everyone is still showing up to work, and they're still dedicated to doing the work that they signed up to do to serve the public, and I think that that needs to be applauded," he stresses.

Disclosure: Washington Federation of State Employees - AFSCME Council 28 contributes to our fund for reporting on Budget Policy & Priorities, Livable Wages/Working Families. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - WA