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Chief: Officers Will Continue To Assist UPMC Staff When Asked

Jamestown Police Department P-J file photo

Officers will continue to assist staff at UPMC Chautauqua when requested if violent and unruly patients are reported. That’s from Jamestown Police Chief Timothy Jackson in response to comments raised this week by a city councilman and former member of the department who questioned the use of officers to help restrain patients at the Foote Avenue hospital.

“The officers will always respond to help with a patient that poses a threat to others,” Jackson said. “We have an inherent duty to protect others and that includes the staff, patients, visitors … at UPMC (Chautauqua).”

Use of officers at the hospital was brought up by Jeff Russell, At-Large councilman, during a meeting Monday of the Jamestown City Council. It led to a lengthy discussion with Lt. Sam Piazza of the Jamestown Police Department who went before the council to express concerns over staffing levels.

“We are short,” Piazza told the council. “The staffing levels include police officers, detectives, supervisors, two captains and the chief is actually included in the staffing criteria.”

Russell, a retired police officer in Jamestown, went off Piazza’s concerns on staffing to bring up an incident that occurred Jan. 14 at UPMC Chautauqua in which an officer was called to “assist UPMC hospital staff with an out of control patient,” the department said in a news release. While attempting to de-escalate the situation, the patient who has not yet been identified, attempted to punch the officer in the face.

During an ensuing struggle, the officer was seriously injured that required “immediate emergency medical treatment” at the hospital, JPD said. As a result of the injury, the officer is currently on light duty, Jackson confirmed this week.

According to the police department, charges against the patient were forthcoming

During the City Council meeting, Russell quizzed Piazza on the incident, inquiring if officers were used often to help hold down unruly patients so they could be given medication for sedation. He said the practice could create a liability for the city if something were to happen to the patient.

“I don’t agree with the practice of the police department being called down to the ER and asked to physically restrain a patient so a chemical restraint can take place,” he said. “If that is taking place now, or it’s happening again, I encourage the chief and I encourage the command staff to meet with the hospital and refuse to do that.”

Russell noted that putting officers in harm’s way may also lead to injury, and thus exacerbating a staffing shortage.

Piazza said officers do not respond to the hospital for the sole purpose of helping staff restrain patients during potentially dangerous situations.

Jamestown’s police chief reiterated that in a comment to The Post-Journal. “We do not respond to calls to assist with strictly medical procedures,” he said.

J.D. Romba, UPMC director of police and security for the Northern Tier, said the organization does not have UPMC police officers in Jamestown, instead utilizing a security staff. He said assistance from outside police agencies is requested when a patient is violent and poses a threat to staff or patients “at a level beyond the capabilities of local security.”

“They may also be requested if a criminal event such as an assault has occurred,” Romba said.

Regarding the Jan. 14 incident at the hospital, Romba said police were asked by staff in the clinical Behavioral Health unit to assist with a patient “who was elevated and because they believed assaultive behavior was likely, not for the chemical restraint.”

He added, “The police officer was attempting to verbally de-escalate the situation when he was assaulted by the patient. It was at that point that the patient was restrained and medicated. UPMC security staff were present before the arrival of JPD and assisted when the subject assaulted the officer.”

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