The state legislature has approved bills meant to protect staff at the state’s maximum security mental hospital and staff and patients at its treatment facilities for violent sexual offenders.

Representatives Jeanie Riddle (left) and Linda Black (right).

Representatives Jeanie Riddle (left) and Linda Black (right).

One proposal, HB 1779, will allow advance practice registered nurses at Fulton State Hospital order that physical or chemical restraints, isolation or seclusion be used on a patient as long as that nurse collaborates with an attending licensed physician. Currently only such physicians or the head of the facility can order such measures.

Representative Jeanie Riddle (R-Mokane) says the bill would make working at the Fulton hospital safer.

“[Those nurses] are closer,” says Riddle. “Fulton State Hospital is a number of buildings and the physician or [Chief of Operations] may be in another building when a violent situation arises. This will allow an advanced practice nurse to be able to de-escalate that situation and hopefully eliminate or lessen the injury rate that’s going on.”

Riddle says staff at the Fulton Hospital are not allowed to defend themselves if attacked by patients who are sometimes violently mentally ill. She is looking for more ways to change policy regarding that.

“I intend to work with the Department [of Mental Health],” says Riddle, “what are the things that we can do that de-escalate violent situations and how do we maintain quality employees and not lose them because they got injured?”

Language from a bill sponsored by Representative Linda Black (D-Desloge) and added to SB 852 would make it a Class “B” felony for a sexually violent predator committed to the Department of Mental Health to attack a Department employee or another offender at the Sexual Offender Rehabilitation and Treatment Services (SORTS) facilities at Fulton or Farmington. The same language would also make it a class “C” felony for offenders at SORTS to knowingly damage state property. Black says the language brings punishment for such incidents in line with what happens when inmates at the state’s prisons attack guards or other inmates.

Representative Kevin Engler (R-Farmington) supported that language. He says offenders consider going from a SORTS facility to a prison, “Much worse conditions most people, so it’s a deterrent to keep them from destroying property, from acting out or hurting employees.”

Both proposals await action by Governor Jay Nixon (D).