Gunther’s Bill to Protect Mental Hospital Staff and Patients Passes Assembly and Senate

Assemblywoman urges governor to sign legislation into law

Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther (D-Forestburgh) announced both the Assembly and Senate passed legislation she sponsored giving security hospital treatment assistants the powers of peace officers, allowing them to carry firearms (A.1685). Gunther urged Governor Pataki to sign this important legislation into law this year.

Many of the patients who are housed in facilities operated by the Office of the Mental Health have already committed serious crimes, but could not stand trial because of their mental illness. Also, most patients in these facilities are too dangerous to remain in civil psychiatric hospitals. Gunther pointed out that many of these patients are rapists, killers, and pedophiles that have serious mental illnesses and are very dangerous.

"Security hospital treatment assistants are on the front line in psychiatric hospitals and mental health units," Gunther said. "Because of their constant contact with seriously mentally ill patients, it is imperative that they are able to protect themselves and others if a violent patient lashes out or a dangerous situation arises."

Gunther’s bill gives peace officer status to security hospital treatment assistants (SHTAs), who act as security personnel in mental hospitals for the insane, and are often required to intervene in violent situations between patients or between patients and staff. SHTAs are also responsible for transporting and watching patients. This legislation would provide SHTAs with training to carry a licensed firearm and make arrests.

At Mid-Hudson Forensic Psychiatric Center, hospital officials recently confirmed that there are at least 25 assaults on staff members each month by patients. But hospital personnel report that the number of incidents is much higher.

"As a former nurse who has worked in a psychiatric crisis unit, I know how dangerous and volatile some patients can be," Gunther said. "For the safety and well-being of hospital staff and patients, SHTAs need the broader powers of peace officers to deal with the demands of this highly dangerous job."

In 2003, the governor vetoed this legislation citing that the law enforcement authority given to the SHTAs by this bill is not necessary for them to perform their duties.

"It is time for the governor to finally recognize the significant dangers faced by security personnel in psychiatric facilities across the state," Gunther said. "The safety of those who live or work inside these facilities is at risk daily. I strongly urge him to face the reality of this situation and grant peace officer status to security hospital treatment assistants by making this bill a law."