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Blood asks Pillen to respond to ‘worsening’ violence, worker safety at state psychiatric hospital



LINCOLN —  A Nebraska lawmaker has ramped up her plea to Gov. Jim Pillen, requesting that he act quickly to improve “worsening” safety conditions for workers at the state psychiatric hospital.

Sen. Carol Blood of Bellevue, in a letter sent Wednesday to Pillen, said the safety of patients and staff at the Lincoln Regional Center is “completely compromised.”

State Sen. Carol Blood of Bellevue addresses workers from the Lincoln Regional Center on the steps of the Nebraska State Capitol on Oct. 21, 2023, in Lincoln. (Zach Wendling/Nebraska Examiner)

Blood noted that the perpetrator of the Sonic shooting, who killed two people and injured two others in her community in 2020, is now a patient at the center. She said staffers tell her that Roberto Silva Jr. must have an escort crew of seven staff members to go anywhere in the facility.

In another situation, Blood said, a different patient “stomped on the head” of a staff member. Blood said it took four people to subdue the young patient, and the staffer currently is receiving treatment.

On another recent occasion, Blood said, a patient at the Regional Center was outside the facility with sheriff’s deputies and “attempted to attack the deputies and reach for a pistol.”

“It’s our understanding that many of the patients at LRC are more akin to Nikko Jenkins than not,” Blood said in the letter to Pillen, referring to the Nebraska death row inmate who killed four people in a 10-day span in 2013 and has self-mutilated while in prison. “The situation at LRC continues to be dire.”

For about a year, Blood has listened to mental health specialists, also called techs, relay increased concerns about conditions at their worksite. She said a staffing shortage at the Regional Center has been a continual and pertinent issue for years.

Last October, techs rallied outside the Governor’s Mansion and at the State Capitol. The protest followed Blood’s earlier outreach and letter to Pillen. Blood said the governor responded in part, with a pay raise and pledging to hire more workers.

But she said that over the past week, she had received messages about worsening conditions threatening workers’ safety. She said every other weekend, a large share of staffers are given the weekend off, leaving others to pick up the workload.

Yvette Olivetti, a union rep for techs at the Lincoln Regional Center, holds a sign with pictures of a handful of workers who have been assaulted by patients. She was part of a protest that workers held outside the State Capitol on Oct. 21, 2023. (Zach Wendling/Nebraska Examiner)

Blood told Pillen that “basic de-escalation training is proving to not be viable” at the facility. She said workers want to be trained like corrections officers to handle violent patients but have not received that form of training.

As of the end of the work day Thursday, Blood said, the governor had not responded to her latest letter.

A spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services responded to the Nebraska Examiner.

Jeff Powell said the department has already been working to implement improvements, including increasing wages by, he said, “over 50%.” He said 110 new nurse and mental health specialist positions recently were posted.

“While one incident is too many, instances of assault are not at heightened levels at the LRC,” Powell said. “Incidents that occurred in 2023 were below 2022 levels and so far in 2024 there has been no indication of increased incidents.”

He said the Regional Center is a fully accredited licensed hospital, not a correctional facility. Therefore, he said, it uses a “nationally recognized verbal and physical intervention system” used in many facilities across the nation.

In a media statement, Blood said she understands that the Regional Center is not intended to be part of the Nebraska correctional system. 

“I understand the purpose is to provide psychiatric services, forensic psychiatric services and to facilitate sex offender programming,” she said.

However, she said, a pay raise doesn’t answer all concerns, and she advocates for more appropriate training to handle patients who turn violent. 

Blood said she and her team continue to listen to workers and share the information publicly because she believes that lives are at risk.

“There appears to be certain patients who have sent more than one staff member to the hospital, with daily assaults on staff occurring,” Blood said. “The severity of injuries suffered include brain trauma, hair being completely pulled out of a young female staffer’s head and attacks on law enforcement members, just to name a few.”


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