The Mental Health Minute

Articles and news about mental health issues

Bill would require panic buttons at state mental health facilities

As a nurse who has been recently assaulted at work, I read this article with interest.  However, though it is a sad fact that this young women lost her life doing her job, many people won’t see the reason for making any changes.

I was at first confused because I have always worked in facilities that use “panic” buttons to call for help.  After reading this, I saw that she was not in a hospital but rather at a residential facility.

I know that these facilities are usually run on a shoestring budget and there may not be any alert system in place.  That said, if there are no other staff around, who will come when you sound the alarm? Staffing cuts due to budget cuts have placed more and more people who work with the mentally ill at risk of harm.

I agree that a mentally ill person is no more likely to assault than any one else, however when you add the possibility of substance abuse, the presence of hallucinations, and our lack of expectations for proper behavior of the chronically ill; then you have a recipe for violence.

My heart goes out to the family and friends of this young woman, Stephanie Moulton.  She did not have to die.  She did not deserve to be killed for trying to help someone in crisis.  She needed back-up and support, not death.

Please read this article from the Taunton Daily Gazette.  Let me know what you think about this, won’t you?


By Michael Norton and Colleen Quinn
State House News Service
Posted Sep 26, 2011 @ 05:57 PM
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Operators of residential mental health treatment facilities in Massachusetts would be required to have “panic buttons” available to employees under new legislation supported by high-ranking members of the House and Senate.

Sponsors of the bill say the goal is to ensure the safety of personnel in emergency situations and cite the death of Stephanie Moulton at a residential facility in January as an impetus for the filing of the bill. The 25-year-old mental health counselor was allegedly murdered by a resident of the residential home in Revere where she worked and the bill’s supporters are calling the legislation “Stephanie’s Law.”

The bill (S 2006) has already won the backing of the co-chairs of the Mental Health and Substance Abuse Committee, which plans a public hearing on the legislation Tuesday afternoon. Sen. Jon Keenan (D-Quincy) and Rep. Elizabeth Malia (D-Jamaica Plain) are cosponsors of Sen. Fred Berry’s legislation.

“The major goal is to provide for the safety of those who work in these environments,” Keenan told the News Service. He added, “The risk of dealing with mental health patients is relatively low. Not everybody is a risk and that seems to be kind of a mischaracterization that is somewhat out there.”

Rep. Theodore Speliotis (D-Danvers) said the bill was a direct reaction to the Moulton case.

“We lost a life at a DMH facility with somebody being alone on the job,” Speliotis said.

Speliotis said it would be “awful tough” to boost funding to increase staff at DMH residential facilities and called the panic button bill “the quickest thing that we can address” to assist workers.

“People put their lives on the line each and every day. It almost seems to me like a no-brainer,” he said.

Kimberly Flynn, Moulton’s mother, believes a panic button, intended to enable workers to quickly alert authorities, would have saved her daughter’s life. She plans to tell lawmakers during a hearing Tuesday that the buttons could be the first step in better protecting both mental health workers and patients.

“She walked into work on a Thursday morning, and she was brutally murdered,” Flynn said Monday in an interview with the News Service. “We still have a lot of unanswered questions.”

Deshawn Chappell, 27, allegedly stabbed Moulton multiple times, and then stole her car and drove her body to a church in Lynn, where he left her, her mother said. He was later found at his grandmother’s house in Roxbury. Chappell is being held in Bridgewater State Hospital, awaiting trial.

“I honestly believe my daughter walked in the door that day and knew nothing about what she was dealing with,” Flynn said, referring to the alleged killer’s violent past. “There were a lot of mistakes made that day, and I believe they have to be fixed and they have to be changed.”

Moulton, a social worker, was recently engaged to be married at the time of her death, Flynn said, and the night before her murder, she and her mother found a wedding dress she would have worn.

“This should have never happened. We have to protect these people,” Flynn said, adding that she supports the type of residential homes that her daughter worked at.

Flynn, a nurse who works with the elderly, said she uses similar emergency buttons when working with her patients. The elderly lifeline buttons are hooked to existing phone lines and able to directly dial a 911 operator. Flynn described the buttons used for the elderly as life-savers that could easily help mental health patients and staff.

Moulton’s death “staggered” the mental health community in Massachusetts, according to a Department of Mental Health task force on staff and client safety report released in June. The task force came up with 18 recommendations, including a call to dramatically increased funding for the Department of Mental Health over the next five years.

The task force report said “most individuals with mental illness pose no greater risk of violence than any other members of our society.” The report went on to say “We also know, however, that for a relatively small group of people, serious mental illness does have an association with aggressive behaviors. These individuals have past histories of violence occurring when their contact with reality has been distorted or lost due to untreated psychotic symptoms.”

Alcohol and substance abuse can significantly increase the likelihood of violence, the report said.

The task force report said years of budget cuts have negatively impacted delivery and safety issues surrounding mental health care, leading to an inadequate number of direct-care staff, a deficiency in the overall number of acute and intermediate hospital beds and community-based services, as well as a decreased role of psychiatrists and other professionals in the care of individuals with the most serious mental illnesses. The cuts require some staff to work under conditions that do not provide adequate safety and a lack of coordination of care across different components of the system, according to the report.

“The path to true safety requires adequate staffing and services,” the report said.

The task force said it was unable to identify any available funding by cutting other areas, and therefore any “recommendations that require new resources should be implemented only if additional funding becomes available.”

“Therefore, we do not recommend addressing the safety concerns that we identified through cuts in other areas. This would merely exchange one problem for another,” the report stated.

Keenan, committee co-chair, said there were several recommendations from the task force that could be implemented with little cost. Some standards, procedures and protocols could be put in place that could better protect mental health workers, he said.

The task force also recommended that DMH work to increase the number of beds available in hospitals.

Copyright 2011 The Taunton Gazette. Some rights reserved
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September 27, 2011 - Posted by | Mental Health | , , , , , ,


  1. My name is Tracie and I am the aunt of Stephanie Moulton. The panic buttons are worn around the neck of not just the workers but the patients to if need be. They are connected to the existing telephone lines and when they are pressed an alert goes out to 911 as well as a contact person for the facility. Stephanie was viciously attacked and stabbed and in the 3-5 minutes it would have taken for police to arrive might have been the difference between life and death for her. Staffing cuts and budget cuts are big problems everywhere in our current economy but the panic buttons and the service is a small solution that will help. I am currently in school myself for psychology and have a schizophrenic close family member and lived with it for many years. This solution only costs about $11.43 a month for the service and button. This is a small price to pay to save lives. Thank you for your thoughts and prayers for my family.

    Comment by Tracie Novack | September 28, 2011 | Reply

    • Tracie, Thank you for your comment. I think that what you describe is a wonderful idea, but again at $11.50 a person, how many of these do you think facilities will be willing to purchase? My hospital would balk at spending any amount of money right now. I am truly sorry for your loss. I will keep your family and Stephanie in my prayers, for sure.

      Comment by Shirley | September 28, 2011 | Reply

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