A government employees union has called for changes in staffing levels and training at state mental health facilities after the death of a 39-year-old care assistant who was injured Saturday while breaking up a fight at Spring Grove Hospital Center in Catonsville.
In a letter to Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., the union said that workers are not equipped to handle an escalating number of court-referred patients, many of whom are dangerous or have committed serious crimes.
Lee McDuffy, a care assistant at Spring Grove, was working a double shift when he broke up a fight between two patients about 8:30 a.m. Saturday. He died several hours later at St. Agnes Hospital; the cause of death remained unknown yesterday.
McDuffy "was one of hundreds of employees in the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene that are trying to do too much with too little support, staff, and training," wrote Sue Esty, interim director of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 92, which represents more than 10,000 state employees.
A spokesman for the department said he would not comment until state health Secretary S. Anthony McCann had reviewed the letter.
Esty said union officials met with McCann two weeks ago to discuss similar concerns at Rosewood Center in Owings Mills, and called yesterday for the state to convene a labor-management team to recommend ways to quickly increase staffing, adopt safety training and determine other ways to protect clients and staff at state facilities.
More than half of the admissions to Spring Grove Hospital are court-referred for evaluation or treatment, she said.
"These are people who are very, very dangerous in what essentially is a hospital ward," she said. "You might have a ward with 40 patients and three low-paid staff members in charge of keeping order. This type of tragedy has really been waiting to occur for several years now."
State police had no additional details about McDuffy's death. He was among the hospital employees who broke up the fight between two patients and were attacked by one of them - a 40-year-old man, police reported.
McDuffy, a Lansdowne resident whose wife also works at Spring Grove, died about 1 p.m. The patient accused of assaulting McDuffy was placed under observation.