SEIU 1021

From the frontlines: Taffie Walter, Chief Psychiatric Technician at San Joaquin County Behavioral Health, tells her story


I work in a different type of emergency room—a mental health emergency room. It’s become more real in the last month or so. Everyone is stressed out working during this crisis. I don’t talk about it much, but it’s dangerous working in an acute psychiatric facility.

The patients that we see are full blown psychotic during their crises and we have to navigate things like someone screaming in our face with no mask on. There are times we must physically contain clients, which is unpleasant part of our job, but we will do whatever is needed keep people from harming themselves and others. We try to do these things wearing PPE (masks and face shields) but can never predict when exactly things can take a turn.  

The mental health clients that we take care of in our community are some of the most severely mentally ill in this county. These clients are residents in this community and, due to limited resources available and no family support, they are often released back into the community—some to shelters or to homeless camps. They rarely have access to adequate PPE.

We’ve had clients die because of these circumstances. It’s heartbreaking because that’s what is most serious for us—making sure patients get the care we want to give them. Yes, we worry that we will contract this virus and that our own lives and families could be at risk, but we continue to do this important work because we love what we do and these are the clients that we want to work with.

We can’t allow this pandemic to be used as an excuse to further defund critical programs and services like the ones my coworkers and I provide. We need our elected officials to protect public workers and the lifesaving work we do for our communities.

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