Cascade Behavioral Health hospital (photo by Cameron Sheppard)

Cascade Behavioral Health hospital (photo by Cameron Sheppard)

After two months of protests, behavioral health workers have not been promised the workplace safety they demand

Employees at Cascade Behavioral Health have been striking ever since a violent patient injured 11.

On Aug. 1, an incident involving a violent patient left nearly a dozen mental healthcare workers injured at Cascade Behavioral Health in Tukwila. Since then, members of the SEIU Healthcare 1199NW union have been on strike asking for one thing, better security resources to ensure they can provide for patients safely and without concern for the wellbeing of themselves and their patients.

It has been two months of picketing now, and workers are still asking for the same thing with no prevail.

Mental Health Technician, Alizar Yirgu, left Cascade Behavioral Health in a stretcher after he was injured by that violent patient on Aug. 1. He was left unable to walk on his own for weeks due to his injuries, but more so, he felt unsupported by management after his workplace injury.

Yirgu is a part of the bargaining team that has been a part of negotiations with management at Cascade Behavioral Health and he says there has been “no movement” in the union’s demands for dedicated on-site security at the primarily in-patient behavioral health facility.

After hours of negotiations, Yirgu feels the lack of compromise on the issue of workplace safety and security is nothing short of disrespectful.

“They refuse to recognize our work,” he said “They disrespect our profession, it’s dehumanizing.”

Union Spokesperson, Kenai Escobar, said with no on-site security at the behavioral health facility, employees are forced to rely on 911 and first responders for safety when things get violent, and employees say this violence is not uncommon.

According to a Tukwila Police Facebook post regarding the Aug. 1 incident, officers were unable to physically restrain the patient who had allegedly assaulted employees, citing laws that prevent them from intervening in certain mental health crisis situations.

Mental Health Technician, Meseret Amare, has worked at Cascade Behavioral Health for six years and said she has been injured by patients three different times. She said the third time she was assaulted from behind while she was pregnant.

Amare said she never felt supported by management after her workplace injuries either.

“Get assaulted today, come back tomorrow,” she said of management’s apparent attitude.

According to her, Cascade Behavioral Health has no safety protocol for employees or patients, despite having the funds to implement security measures.

“Cascade is not safe for anyone, this is not the place to get treatment they deserve,” said Amare.

With Cascade Behavioral Health’s staff being predominantly immigrants and people of color, some including Yirgu believe there is a racial element to the for-profit hospital’s exploitation.

“I think they would exploit anyone, but because these people are immigrants it is way worse,” said Registered Nurse, Diane Joyce.

Joyce was one of six Cascade Behavioral Health employees that recently traveled to Washington D.C. to a national behavioral health conference at which executives with Acadia Healthcare, the organization that runs Cascade, were expected to attend.

She said they were able to speak with some of the executives, but actual change in regards to safer working conditions has yet to have been seen.

“They didn’t care that people’s lives were at risk,” said Joyce.

She believes that it will take new policies and laws to be implemented by legislators in order to create safer conditions for both patients and healthcare workers.

A Cascade Behavioral Health spokesperson cited a National Alliance on Mental Illness letter to OSHA, claiming that on-site security poses a risk to mental health patients. They also said they offered to have a de-escaltion specialist on staff, but union members said this would not be enough to make them feel safe at work.

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