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Citing Patient Deaths, Protesters Converge On College Hospital Cerritos

Protesters gather at College Hospital Cerritos this past week.  Randy Economy Photo

Protesters gather at College Hospital Cerritos this past week. Randy Economy Photo

By Brian Hews

Dozens of healthcare workers converged on College Hospital Cerritos on Tuesday to protest current and past working conditions at the mental health facility that has been under fire by members of the Service Employees International Union – United Health Care Workers.

The protestors included the families of two former patients who died at the facility, including one that has a pending wrongful death lawsuit, as well as California State Assembly Member Bonnie Lowenthal.

According to Sean Wherley, a spokesman for SEIU-UHW, told Hews Media Group that College Hospital Cerritos has been the site of “reported patient related deaths, sexual assaults and escapes, and we will not allow these conditions to continue without action.”

“Just this month, one patient died after suffering a seizure and two others reported being sexually assaulted. In addition, employees have suffered serious injuries after violent altercations with patients, and other workers reported being sexually harassed by a supervisor,” Wherley told the newspaper on Tuesday.

Assemblywoman Bonnie Lowenthal at protest in front of College Hospital Cerritos this week.  Randy Economy Photo

Assemblywoman Bonnie Lowenthal at protest in front of College Hospital Cerritos this week. Randy Economy Photo

Wherley said that the Cerritos-based facility is under investigation by county, state, and federal officials for alleged safety and care violations, including discharging homeless patients out the front door without a plan for housing, transportation, or medical care.

Union officials also contend that in 2009, College Hospital paid a $1.6 million fine for dumping homeless patients on Skid Row in downtown Los Angeles.

Also attending the press event was Chris Mills, who is a current College Hospital Licensed Vocational Nurse who said he was stabbed “repeatedly” by a patient and nearly died on the job and has been left with permanent injuries.

“Patients and workers shouldn’t have to fear for their safety or well-being but try telling that to the families of the loved ones at College Hospital or the employees, like myself, who were stabbed on the job,” Mills said.

Mills went on to say that “we have asked management to do more to protect the safety of patients and workers but we’re still waiting for them to make changes.”

Others attending the protest, who work at College Hospital Cerritos told Hews Media Group-Community Newspapers under the condition that their names not be used, said that “dangerous mentally ill patients are literally dumped on the streets of Cerritos, and Artesia and Norwalk each and every day that leave this facility each and every day.”

“The people who live in Cerritos need to understand that College Hospital is literally dumping dangerous, and mentally ill patients directly into their neighborhoods and parks each and every day, and management here is covering it up,” another employee told HMG-CN.

Several speakers, including Tom Sciarra, a former mental health worker at College Hospital Cerritos repeatedly said that the facility is under investigation by county, state and federal officials for alleged safety and care violations, including “discharging homeless patients without offering them assistance for housing, transportation or medical care.

Spokesperson Wherley said in 2009 College Hospital paid a $1.6 million fine for dumping homeless patients on Skid Row in downtown Los Angeles that his more than 25 miles away from the Cerritos based facility.

Also at the protest rally were the families of two patients who claimed that their loved one died at College Hospital Cerritos.

Attorney Simona Farrise, who represents the family of Augustine Liu, a 25 year old mentally ill patient who died at the facility, has filed a wrongful death lawsuit that is expected to go to trial in early 2014.

Farrise said that College Hospital Cerritos used Liu “as a human guinea pig” and also “partnered” with drug manufacturer Johnson & Johnson by prescribing him “dangerous levels of psycatrophic drugs.”

“The people who work here are not the problem, it is the management and owners who are the problem,” Farrise said.

“College Hospital Cerritos do things for the money, not for the good of the patients,” Farrise said.

A spokesperson for College Hospital Cerritos blasted SEIU officials in a statement to the media on Wednesday morning.

“It is not surprising that SEIU chose to hold a non-productive rally rather than engage in a meaningful, bargaining session with College Hospital Cerritos,” said  Samantha K. Feld, General Counsel for College Hospital Cerritos.

“The rally is nothing more than an attempt by SEIU to put pressure on the Hospital,” Feld told HMG-CN.

“The Hospital, however, will not be pressured by such tactics. The Hospital and the Union representing a small portion of the Hospital’s technical and non-licensed staff, SEIU-UHW are currently in contract negotiations and much progress has been made,” Feld continued.

“The Hospital and the Union will resume negotiations in early January. The Hospital remains committed to reaching an agreement with the Union. In fact, just last week, the Hospital reached an agreement with the Union representing the Hospital’s nurses, SEIU-121RN,” Feld concluded.

Spokesperson Wherley said that over a three-year period ending in February 2013, the Cerritos Sheriff’s received more than 230 calls from College Hospital Cerritos that included two patient deaths; two patient-on-patient sexual assaults; 19 patient escapes; 17 patient-on-patient assaults; four patient-on-staff assaults, and six patients who “stopped breathing.”

Lt. Harpham with the Cerritos Sheriff Station said he could not comment on the specific statistics regarding activities at College Hospital Cerritos.  Harpham did confirm to HMG-CN that union officials had requested specific details regarding sheriff responses to the facility under a Freedom of Information Act request.

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One Response to Citing Patient Deaths, Protesters Converge On College Hospital Cerritos

  1. Jd Reply

    December 21, 2013 at 9:26 am

    They are charging my daughter over 1,000 that saying kaiser couldn’t covered all and send her collection from social service. This is rediculous she 19 years olds. Total cost for 3 days over 3,000. Am trying to dispute the bill.

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