Thursday, December 23, 2004

Murder on a psych ward

France is reeling from the brutal murder of two night-shift nurses, whose mutilated bodies were discovered on a psychiatric ward:
A savage double murder in the psychiatric wing of a French hospital, in which a nurse's decapitated head was left on top of a television in the patients' day room, stunned France and left hospital staff terrified of returning to work.
Staff at the 460-bed Pyrenees Hospital Centre near the south-western town of Pau discovered the bodies of two nurses - both in their 40s, and mothers of young children - at 6.45am on Saturday, police said.

One had been stabbed and slashed several times in the body, neck and throat, and was lying in a corridor in a pool of blood. The beheaded body of the second was lying at the foot of a fire door.

"It is horror, terror, fear, disgust - fear of returning to work," Cathy Sanders, a regional official from Worker's Front union, told RTL radio." (from the Guardian.)
The killings have sparked an anguished debate about security in French psychiatric facilities, as well as funding, staffing, and distribution of psychiatric services.

What would it take to start a national debate about those issues in this country? We've had our own problems with security, staffing, budget cuts, unaffordable medications, loss of community services, and wide variation in availability of psychiatric care. I think of the times I've felt vulnerable when working on a psych unit. When I know I'm walking into danger, I can summon security staff for a "show of force" before venturing into a room. But what about the unexpected dangers, the unpredictable intruders? And how much more vulnerable are night nurses in any setting? They may have less help, and longer waits for assistance in emergencies. Must we wait for a similar tragedy, before addressing our own safety?

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