Updated at 9:20 am, August 13, 2021
On Aug. 1, workers at Cascade Behavioral Health in Tukwila went on strike after a dangerous incident involving a patient.
A Facebook post from the SEIU Healthcare 1199NW union stated that the workers organized a “safety strike” after an “incident of workplace violence hospitalized one worker and injured others, and threatened the safety of numerous patients.”
Registered nurse Kim Rowe said this particular incident occurred on Aug. 1, when an unruly patient stole a security badge and gained access to offices, which they proceeded to vandalize. Eventually, 15 staff members were recruited to try and detain the patient. When they attempted to apprehend the patient, 11 staff members of the 15 were injured, four of which were sent to the emergency room with severe injuries.
Rowe said one staff member was injured so badly, they had to be taken to the hospital in a stretcher and put on oxygen.
“We can’t even rehabilitate a man like that,” Rowe said of the violent patient.
She said Cascade Behavioral Health has gone downhill in the last year and a half since the hospital became a majority involuntary facility. She said the hospital takes a high volume of patients that have been convicted of violent crimes with no security staff or cameras.
She estimated that there are nine patients to every one staff member.
Mental health practitioner Brando Villareal has worked at Cascade Behavioral Health hospital for about a decade. He says violent encounters with patients is not uncommon at the facility. He said his colleagues have suffered broken bones, noses and black eyes as a result of there altercations.
Villareal said staff has had to use mattresses to pin patients armed with weapons into a corner where they cannot hurt anyone. He has witnessed involuntary patients punching other patients just to get charged and sent out of the facility.
“They often become worse before they get better,” he said.
Villareal said the involuntary behavioral health hospital has no security staff or screening, and when police are called during violent situations, staff are told that the matter is “internal.”
Workers in the union are demanding security staff and safety measures such as repairing a broken door that no longer can be locked. An employee said the door was repaired in a makeshift way using plywood and requiring a staff member to watch over the unlockable door.
A spokesperson from Cascade Behavioral Health said the coordination of the strike by their workers is making it difficult for the clinic to provide behavioral healthcare services.
“The safety and well-being of our patients and staff are always our top priorities. It is unfortunate that we must limit access to treatment when the need for mental health services is as critical as ever in the communities we serve,” Cascade said via written statement. “We look forward to arriving at a fair resolution with our nurses and their union and resuming normal operations.”
A Facebook post from the union states the workers “plan to withhold [their] labor until [their] demands for security and a safe workplace free from violence are met.”