WFSE Local 793 Safety Rally at Western State Hospital

Union members and elected officials rallied outside of Western State Hospital to demand adequate staffing and training at the Specialized Treatment, Assessment and Recovery (STAR) ward, home to the hospital’s most violent patients.

“The staff who take care of those patients need to be treated in a way that recognizes the dangerous jobs that they do,” said State Representative Mari Leavitt, who attended the rally. “We need staff to feel safe to go to work every day and for their families to know they are going to come back home.”

For years, understaffing has led to regular injuries for workers at Western State Hospital. Now, the hospital’s management has reduced the violence reduction team, a unit created specifically to serve violent and assaultive patients.

“They are taking people who are trained to work with geriatric patients and forcing them with the threat of discipline to work on STAR,” said Mike Yestramski, Jr., a psychiatric social worker at Western State Hospital and president of the Washington Federation of State Employees/AFSCME Council 28.

“We have asked, we have issued demands to bargain, we have filed grievances, and management has continued to say no and continued to put staff in harm’s way.”

The STAR ward was opened in January 2020 after a string of violent attacks on staff, including one attack that left a nurse disfigured. Patients on the ward stay for up to 90 days or until they have been violencefree for 30 days.

“Some of the most violent patients are good patients now because of our work with the treatment teams and the doctors,” said Sean Pierre Adams, who works on the violence reduction team at Western State Hospital. “There’s no reason to break up our team. Everyone will tell you that we are a great asset to this hospital. We’ve made some real changes. We’re going to fight to the end.”

State Senator Steve Conway, who attended the rally, said to the assembled workers, “Your demand is for a safer and healthier work environment, and that’s what this country is about. I’ll let management know I’m here to defend you.”

Western State Hospital has long been considered the most dangerous place to work in the state.

“We need training,” Psychiatric Social Worker Marie Buss said. “We need to be supported. Our parents, our children, our loved ones — everyone wants us to come home safe. We need safety. We’re here to show we deserve it.”

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