OSHA investigation finds 'hazardous conditions' at Baraboo facility
Federal agency recommends measures to protect employees
The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration did not issues any citations as a result of its investigation into a mental health care facility in Baraboo.
Director of Public Affairs for the U.S. Department of Labor Scott Allen released a letter the agency sent to Dungarvin last week, saying the company has not "developed or implemented all feasible measures to protect workers from assaults at your workplace."
"This company has been very proactive and taken a number of measures, over 35 measures, to try and ensure that their workers are safe," Allen said in a phone interview. "So we're confident that they're on the right track, and we will continue to monitor them and determine if there's a need to go back in there for further investigation."
The letter stated that OSHA may return to the facility in about a year to reexamine the conditions there.
OSHA began its investigation six months ago after workers reported being injured on the job to police.
Jeremy Felix moved into 616 Sauk Ave. after Care Wisconsin contracted his care to Dungarvin. The 26-year old has a history of mental illness and serious violence. People living around Felix in the surrounding residential area expressed concern over the placement of the facility and their lack of input in the decision.
Baraboo police officials say calls about the residence and Felix have significantly declined since last summer, but officers couldn’t know whether or not that was a product of fewer incidents, fewer people calling or another factor.
In the letter to Dungarvin from Jan. 24, OSHA’s area director said eight employees sought medical attention after physically restraining a client or attempting to do so.
"The investigation did reveal that some employees were exposed to hazardous conditions associated with workplace violence," Allen said.
Allen explained Dungarvin personnel were proactive in their efforts to improve safety conditions for employees, but could not specify how many measures were in place before the investigation, how many were implemented during the investigation and how many happened as a result.
"The number one concern of ours is to ensure the safety of the workers in the workplace, so if they can correct it quickly and efficiently, then we're pleased with that," Allen said.
The letter to Dungarvin also recommended a few voluntary steps the company is encouraged to take. Those included getting a third-party opinion on its conflict resolution policies, evaluating self-defense training for employees and conducting annual hazard assessments to make sure items in the house can’t be used as weapons.
"We're confident that they're moving in the right direction to ensure that it’s a safe environment for employees in the future," Allen said.
Rep. Fred Clark, D-Baraboo, has watched this situation play out in his district, and said OSHA’s findings validate neighbors’ concerns.
"If that's not a wake-up call, I don't know what is," Clark said about the investigation.
Clark said the state should step in and take responsibility for making sure OSHA’s recommendations are implemented.
"We're the customer here. I think we all need to remember that the state of Wisconsin is essentially purchasing these services to care for these individuals," Clark said. "And I think we have the responsibility to ensure there's a safe work environment there."
Clark said he plans to sit down with the Department of Health Services in the near future to discuss an action plan for a safe and successful placement for Felix and others.
The DHS already cleared Dungarvin of any wrongdoing after its investigation determined the Baraboo facility was up to state standards.
Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton, who initially asked why Dungarvin was placed in the Baraboo neighborhood said in a statement, "I am pleased OSHA has validated employee safety concerns and made strong recommendations for changes that Dungarvin can implement to improve workplace safety at their Baraboo facility. I am optimistic that improvements for employee safety will also help improve community safety. I appreciated the continued work of OSHA."
"Dungarvin Wisconsin is pleased that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s investigation of Dungarvin’s program in Baraboo confirmed that its workplace training and other procedures had not violated any requirements of OSHA law," Dungarvin’s State Director Julie Josephitis said Thursday in a statement. "We are committed to continuing our ongoing evaluation of our work sites and taking all reasonable precautions to ensure the safety of our employees, the individuals we support and the community."
Baraboo Mayor Mike Palm said in a statement that "the city of Baraboo will continue to monitor and work with the offices of Sen. Erpenbach and Rep. Clark concerning the issues at 616 Sauk Ave."
Care Wisconsin, the organization that contracted Dungarvin for Felix’s care, had no comment on OSHA’s findings.
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