They spoke with reporters outside a hearing between the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services and the Occupational Health and Safety Administration in Raleigh. DHHS said it requested the hearings after a 2012 report in which the Department of Labor cited Cherry Hospital in Goldsboro with serious violations of federal workplace safety regulations, and said administrators failed to properly report some employee injuries to regulators.
But in a statement to ABC11 Wednesday, DHHS said "The 2012 Department of Labor inspection at Cherry Hospital failed to acknowledge the many workplace safety measures and education already in place at the hospital to protect employees from potential harm in working with patients. Recommendations made by the DOL reviewer to staff regarding aggressive responses to patient behavior reflected a general lack of understanding of the nature of a therapeutic environment and contradict national standards for patient-centered care."
But workers with the Public Service Workers Union who spoke with ABC11 Wednesday said there is not enough being done at Cherry Hospital. They said they want to see better training for staffers which is closer to the real world conditions they face every day.
"Sitting up there in the office you're not dealing with getting hit getting spit on, getting hit, getting your nose broken, whatever, you're not dealing with that," offered Bev Moriarty who is a registered nurse at Cherry Hospital.
Workers said they'd also like to see better pay, which would cut down on turnover and contribute to overall safety. They say mental health care works best when relationships can be build with patients and coworkers.
In its statement, DHHS says it's doing a good job:
"Our goal is to provide a safe environment for employees and for the patients we serve. Our commitment to safety and best practices are exemplified by the fact that all three of our state operated psychiatric hospitals are accredited by the Joint Commission on the Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations, which sets national standards for hospitals, and are certified by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
"In addition to numerous safety measures in place, DHHS trains employees in an internationally-accepted, patient-centered standard of care for managing disruptive and assaultive behavior that supports our goal of protecting employee and patient safety. Crisis Prevention Institute (CPI) training teaches proven strategies for safely resolving situations when confronted by anxious, hostile, or violent behavior, while protecting the therapeutic relationships with those in their care."