- Associated Press - Sunday, May 22, 2016

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) - Patient attacks on staff at a state mental hospital are rising, according to a newspaper report.

The Sioux Falls Argus Leader reported (http://argusne.ws/1YOCxPa ) that the number of employees at the Human Services Center in Yankton injured by patients has gone up in three of the last four years, peaking at 222 in fiscal year 2014. More than 1,000 injuries have been recorded in patient-employee attacks since 2010.

Hospital employees’ worker compensation claims rose during that period as well, even as the total number of claims for state workers decreased. Hospital employee claims peaked at 309 in 2014 and last year accounted for nearly one in six claims by state workers.

What’s more, since July 2008, workers have left the hospital at a rate of about one every three days. The hospital had more than 40 job openings in May, including four psychiatrists, a dozen nurses and 21 mental health aides.

Current and former employees said the facility lacks the staff and security to manage a small but growing number of violent patients.

“A lot of progress could be made if the employees were just listened to,” said state Sen. Bernie Hunhoff, a Yankton Democrat.

Lynne Valenti is the secretary of the state Department of Social Services, which oversees the hospital. She said working at the facility can be hard but denied that’s it’s a dangerous place. Safety hasn’t come up as a concern in employee exit surveys, she said.

“If people don’t feel (safe), they need to communicate that because, again, if people don’t communicate that, we can’t help people or address concerns if we don’t know about them,” she told the Argus Leader.

However, she acknowledged that sometimes staff members get hurt and “that’s the reality of working in any facility.”

The center employs about 550 people. It provides inpatient psychiatric and chemical dependency services to 1,800 patients who are there under court order or a voluntary commitment. About nine out of 10 are classified as civil commitments, people who are considered a danger to themselves or others.

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Information from: Argus Leader, http://www.argusleader.com

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