Officials suggest changes but no penalties at Western Psych

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Federal safety officials have closed a six-month investigation of the March shooting rampage at UPMC's Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic without issuing fines or citations but instead are recommending tighter security in the facility's lobby, the scene of the violence.

Harry Schaab, father of Michael Schaab, a Western Psych worker and the only employee killed in the spree by John F. Shick, said Friday that he was sickened over the lack of penalties imposed on UPMC by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

"To have UPMC, a billion-dollar company, not have a dime taken from them, this is amazing," Mr. Schaab, 52, of Salem, said. "It actually made me sick to my stomach when I read the letter when they got off with no violations and no citations."

Mr. Schaab was referring to a letter that he and his wife received from OSHA.

In a separate, two-page letter dated Monday to UPMC CEO Jeffrey Romoff, OSHA did not mention the March 8 incident in which Shick, a mentally ill former graduate student, walked into the Oakland mental health hospital with two handguns and opened fire.

Shick killed Schaab, 25, and wounded five others before he was killed by police.

OSHA instead took a broader approach. Despite not referring to the event that triggered the investigation, OSHA's Pittsburgh area director Robert Szymanski, who signed the letter, wrote that an inspection "revealed that employees were exposed to hazards associated with workplace violence."

An OSHA review of incidents from 2007 through 2011 of violence by Western Psych patients against workers showed "numerous" injuries to employees that constitute "evidence that your facility should increase efforts to reduce the likelihood of these incidents," the letter said.

Mr. Szymanski listed six recommendations, several of which involved changing policies and procedures and establishing a committee.

The suggestions that appeared most pertinent to workers involved adding security for the reception area in the lobby and re-evaluating policies for having staff use portable metal detectors to "wand" visitors for weapons or contraband.

SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania, the union representing about 200 nurses, clerical and dietary workers at the hospital, has been agitating for changes in lobby security and criticized the use of nurses and other staffers to conduct wanding.

The union has expressed mounting frustration with UPMC in terms of enacting security changes and sharing information.

"It's been over six months and nothing's changed. We're glad the OSHA letter confirms what we've been saying, but we want UPMC to take action," said Zachary Zobrist, vice president of SEIU Pennsylvania. "What's frustrating is that UPMC says it's done a thorough review of security and safety but they've not shared that with the employees and the union."

In an email response to questions, UPMC said it planned to station an armed University of Pittsburgh police officer in the lobby around the clock.

Also, spokeswoman Gloria Kreps said, a new entrance will be constructed and patients and visitors will be screened by a metal detector.

Ms. Kreps did not know when the changes would occur.

Mark Homyak, an attorney representing Kathryn F. Leight, a Western Psych receptionist who was shot and is suing Shick's estate, was underwhelmed by OSHA's response.

"I'm disappointed that the vast majority of these suggestions call for studies, committees and no action," Mr. Homyak said. "It surprises me that there were no specific immediate changes required."

OSHA does not have specific standards governing workplace violence issues, so experts said it is not surprising that no violations were found.

OSHA noted the lack of a standard in its letter to UPMC, but it also said it was unable to invoke the "general duty clause," a kind of catch-all regulation that covers workplace safety issues not under a particular topic, such as asbestos or forklift operation.

The U.S. Labor Department, which fielded media inquiries about the letter, declined comment.

"When OSHA comes in, they find something wrong. Especially when there's a death incident at work something had to be wrong -- something small, a camera wasn't working right, something," Mr. Schaab said. "Maybe you better change the standards then."

William Borwegen, the SEIU's occupational safety and health director, said that while the letter to UPMC makes recommendations that are not mandates, they are to be taken seriously.

"It puts the employer on notice that they should address these issues and address them soon," Mr. Borwegen said. "What OSHA has done in their limited toolbox is set up a situation whereby if the employer doesn't address these issues in the letter, it sets the employer up for being cited."

At the same time, Celeste Monforton, an expert on worker safety and regulatory policy with George Washington University, lamented the level of protections for employees in cases of workplace violence.

"To have a schizophrenic patient coming in with guns and someone is killed and multiple people injured and the best our worker safety agency can do is send a letter pleading with the company to clean up their act rather than taking enforcement action, I think should tell the public a lot about how little teeth politicians have really given to our worker safety agency," she said.

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Jonathan D. Silver: jsilver@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1962.


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