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Zappala: Monitor Western Psych's promised security upgrades

| Thursday, May 2, 2013, 11:50 p.m.

Allegheny County officials should make sure security upgrades at Western Psychiatric Institute & Clinic are met and withhold public funding if the hospital does not comply, District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. said Thursday.

Zappala said he is planning to send letters to Executive Rich Fitzgerald and County Council as early as Friday outlining his security concerns and the power county officials have to force the hospital to comply. He plans to attach a report from UPMC that outlines $10 million in security upgrades.

Zappala also referenced a lawsuit filed by former Western Psych receptionist Kathryn Leight, 66, of Shaler, who survived a gunshot wound to the chest during John Shick's shooting rampage in March 2012.

“The lawsuit indicates all kinds of deficiencies in how we treat mental health issues,” Zappala said.

“There's tens of millions of dollars in public money involved. Before tax dollars can be used, the county has to (ask), ‘How are you going to take care of these people?' Who's doing that? If they don't commit a criminal act, where do you put people like that? The state closed Mayview (State Hospital).” he said.

“We've been working with the DA and consultants since shortly after the shooting and have been advised by them that our response and our plans for additional improvements are excellent. We look forward to working with them going forward,” UPMC spokeswoman Gloria Krepps said. “OSHA also did a thorough investigation of the incident and issued no citations to WPIC, but instead offered a handful of recommendations to improve safety at the facility, all of which have been implemented.”

Fitzgerald's spokeswoman, Amie Downs, said the county would wait to see the district attorney's recommendations before responding.

“So if we have all these issues, we have to look at it,” Zappala said. “We have to take a hard look at how we treat mental illness in the county.”

Zappala released a safety review in November that stated nurses at Western Psych are fearful of getting hurt despite some initial security upgrades after the shootings. The nurses said their jobs at the Oakland hospital subject them to a series of hazards on a daily basis, including being approached by patients with knives and razor blades. One patient choked a nurse through an open medicine dispensary area, the report found.

Leight filed additional details in her lawsuit this week, claiming that UPMC doctors missed several opportunities to commit Shick to a mental facility before his shooting rampage. The lawsuit accuses University of Pittsburgh Physicians, UPMC and several subsidiaries of failing to act to prevent the shootings that killed therapist Mike Schaab, 25, of Regent Square and wounded Leight and four others before Pitt police killed Shick, 30, of Oakland.

Bobby Kerlik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7886 or bkerlik@tribweb.com.

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