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Chester Mental Health Center employees feel unsafe

CHESTER, Ill. (KMOV.com) –

It’s the state of Illinois’ only maximum security mental health facility. The Chester Mental Health Center houses individuals declared unfit to stand trial or not guilty by reason of insanity by a criminal court. According to the state those individuals are called patients.

The facility’s website says it’s mission is “to assist patients to achieve their full recovery potential.”

The men and woman that monitor those patients are referred to as security therapists aids or STA’s. Anthony West told News 4, “we’re kind of like a security guard but we’re also a helper or a therapist in a way.”

West and several other STA’s recently told News 4 violence inside the facility has been escalating, and a number of STA’s have been injured on the job. Derek Schnoeker said, “the small things turn into big things.”

Schnoeker says he was recently punched in the eye by a patient, and was forced to stay home on workers compensation.

Ryan Smelcer says he was recently assigned to “light duty” after he injured his back while breaking up a fight. Smelcer said, “it’s inevitable to get hurt at some point.”

According to state records obtained by News 4 there were 14 STA’s placed on light duty during the month of April. Records obtained through a freedom of information requests reveal more than 40 STA’s have been injured by patients inside the facility since January 1st 2016.

Some of those injuries include getting assaulted directly by patients, in other cases STA’s have been hit with feces thrown by patients. West, Schnoeker, and Smelcer tell News 4 policy changes need to be considered to keep STA’s safer on the job. Smelcer said, “I think there needs to be a change in policies. I think policies are more directed to a therapeutic setting and they forget about security sometimes.”

All three men told News 4 they are not allowed to fight back if a patient starts a fight with them. Instead they tell News 4 they must call for back up.

News 4 asked for an interview with an Illinois Department of Human Services official, the agency provided the following statement.

The Illinois Department of Human Services is committed to providing the highest level of safety to our staff and patients at Chester Mental Health Center. Chester is the state s only maximum security mental health hospital and therefore the patients there present some of the most challenging behaviors. Most of Chester s patients are forensic commitments, meaning they have been declared unfit to stand trial or not guilty by reason of insanity by a criminal court. However, staff is well-trained and experienced in preventing, de-escalating and managing aggressive incidents, and the department is continuously looking for ways to reduce the risk of violence.

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