A struggle to get by at hospital at Dammasch, administrators take jobs of strikers

From The Oregonian – September 17, 1987. Not available elsewhere online.

The normal bustle was gone from the wards at Dammasch State Hospital on Wednesday, replaced by the hustle of administrators filling in as psychiatric aides and food service workers.

As the first day of the Oregon Public Employees Union strike got under way, line workers traded their uniforms for picket signs and took their places at the entrance of the institution, while administrators left their formal clothes at home to work with patients.

REASONABLE CARE: “We’re covered,” said Dr. Victor M. Holm, Dammasch superintendent. “I can’t say we can make it business as usual, but reasonable care in a humane environment is being provided.”

About 450 people work at the mental hospital, three-quarters of whom are represented by the union. Administrators and doctors are not represented by a union; nurses are represented by their own union.

“We feel we can meet the health and safety needs” of patients and residents in the four institutions, said Peggy Sand, communications manager for the Mental Health Division.

Most patients are getting basic care instead of the usual therapy, she said. The mental health institutions affected by the strike Wednesday were Oregon State Hospital and the Eastern Oregon Training and Psychiatric centers, as well as Dammasch .

Fairview Training Center workers in Salem are represented by a different union.

Holm said administrators from other Human Resources Department agencies have been brought in to help. Managers from Fairview, the Mental Health Division and the Health Division have been assigned to work with patients on the wards.

Janice Yaden, assistant to the governor for human resources, was working a 12-hour shift at the hospital’s switchboard and on the wards as a psychiatric aide, Holm said.

TOOK OVER AT MIDNIGHT: The hospital’s staff director was working as a psychiatric aide; the manager of occupational therapy was working with patients.

Holm said the managers began working about 6 p.m. Tuesday in anticipation of the strike and when workers went out at midnight they took over. The administrators are working 12-hour shifts.

“As it goes on a while more, we would definitely be very tired and have problems,” Holm said. He added, however, that help from other administrators was coming.

The institution had 362 patients, who have some “apprehension” about new people working in the institution, Holm said. Most of the staff had been able to answer questions by patients about the strike.

A maximum security ward in the hospital that houses 30 patients is staffed by psychiatric security aides, who are barred from striking.

He said most of the patients would have more time on their hands because a number of activities would not be available.

One of the crucial areas hit in the hospital is placement service, which finds patients places to work and stay when released, Holm said. He said discharges at the hospital probably would slow down, resulting in more patients in the institution.

24 OF 190 AT WORK: Holm said there were 190 Oregon Public Employees Union members on the graveyard and day shifts, of whom about 24 had reported for work. He said about 100 union workers come in on the swing shift and very few crossed the picket lines Wednesday.

Glen Hartley
, a psychiatric aide and picket line captain, said the union knew of only 11 workers who had crossed the picket lines.

Holm, whose office window has a view of strikers about 70 yards away, said there had been two or three minor incidents of name-calling and of delivery truck drivers not wanting to cross the picket lines.

“I really don’t think strikes benefit anybody,” he said. “The wounds heal slowly.”

Meanwhile, 30 strikers at the hospital entrance waved at passers-by and tried to discourage deliverers and others from entering the grounds. Pickets also manned a side entrance and a back road that led to the hospital.

“We’ve had a real good turnout,” Hartley said. He added that he thought morale inside the institution would be poor because of the stress of working with patients.

“It takes experience and a gut feeling to know how to handle people,” he said. “Some people you can confront; others, they’re going to sock you one.”