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UPEA SEEKS AUDIT OF `HIGH RISK’ AREAS

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The stabbing death of a Utah State Hospital kitchen worker has led an organization representing state employees to ask for a legislative audit of "high-risk" areas in the Utah Department of Human Services.

Members of the Legislature's audit subcommittee are expected to consider the request from the Utah Public Employees Association at their next meeting, tentatively scheduled for May 15.During a press conference on Monday, UPEA officials said they also will ask the 1991 Legislature to approve a bill it rejected in 1989 that would provide a security system at the state hospital in Provo.

And they said lawmakers should pass a bill mandating the purchase of a group insurance policy that would pay beneficiaries of public employees who die in the line of duty $10,000.

The organization that represents some 8,200 state and local government employees wants the Legislative Auditor General to determine the staffing levels at the hospital and the Utah State Training School in American Fork.

Also being sought from the management audit is the ratio of employees to clients among the Human Services Department's intake and protective services workers, according to Nancy Sechrest, acting executive director of UPEA.

"These people have really been overloaded," she said. "There are a lot of frustrated workers." But Sechrest stopped short of saying that the death of Bette Done might not have happened if more employees had been on duty.

A patient assigned to work as waiter in the Utah State Hospital's snack bar has been charged with second-degree murder in connection with the stabbing of Done with a kitchen knife April 23.

Done, 64, who had worked in the hospital kitchen for nine years, was dining in the snack bar when she was attacked. The stabbing was unprovoked, according to a hospital spokeswoman, and Done did not know her assailant.

"I don't know if that would have prevented it," Sechrest said of the potential effort of the measures sought on the incident. "I think we need to know for sure."

She said comparing staffing levels in the Utah hospital with similar facilities in other states would show whether "morale is really deteriorating, making it a volatile place."

House Majority Leader Craig Moody, R-Sandy, said as a member of the legislative audit subcommittee he would support an audit of at least one of the two facilities in question - the state hospital and the training school.

"I think those are areas where there can be life-threatening situations," Moody said. "We need to see if we are jeopardizing the lives of employees of the state of Utah."

But he cautioned that everything requested may not be able to be completed since there are already a number of audits already scheduled by the subcommittee that need to be done before the 1991 Legislature meets.

"I'd like to see both of them audited. I just don't know if there'll be time and staff available before the session," he said, adding that he did not have a preference.

UPEA President Bud Bowman, a Utah Highway Patrol officer based in Cedar City, said in a statement released during Monday's press conference that Done's death was untimely and unnecessary.

"I term her death `unnecessary' because there have been efforts to protect workers while on the job, but they have not been approved by the decision-makers on Capitol Hill,' he said.