Atascadero State Hospital

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Atascadero State Hospital
Location Atascadero, California, United States
Care system Psychiatric Ward
Hospital type Forensic psychiatry
Emergency department None
Beds 1239
Founded 1954
Lists Hospitals in California

Atascadero State Hospital (ASH) is located on the central coast of California, in San Luis Obispo County, half-way between Los Angeles and San Francisco. It is an all-male, maximum-security facility, that houses mentally ill and disordered convicts who have been committed to psychiatric facilities by California's courts.[1] Located near Atascadero, California, it is the largest employer in that town.


ASH opened in 1954, as a state-run, self-contained public sector forensic psychiatric facility. It is enclosed within a security perimeter, and accredited by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO). Patients are referred to the hospital by the Superior Court, Board of Prison Terms, or the Department of Corrections.

In 1998, ASH won the Ernest A. Codman Award in the Hospital Category.[2]

Suxamethonium chloride was used here as a treatment for homosexuality until 1969, when a scandal arose over its use.[3]

Inmate murders[edit]

On May 28, 2014, a patient was killed and an employee was injured during an alleged attack by two other patients.[1]

On March 30, 2008, 44-year-old inmate Earl McKee strangled a fellow inmate, 37-year-old Lawrence Rael, to death with a knotted towel. McKee was originally institutionalized as a "Mentally Disordered Offender". Last year, after making abusive threats to other inmates, he was reclassified as a "Sexually Violent Predator". The murder came in the wake of federal court-mandated changes that reduced the usage of medication and restraints on patients, as well as a large turnover in staffing resulting in less experienced personnel working at the hospital.[4]

Current status[edit]

Atascadero State Hospital is currently[when?] under renovation and is in the process of transferring the remaining few dozen sexually violent predators to Coalinga State Hospital (CSH), which was built specifically to house and treat SVPs. More than 600 SVPs have already been transferred to CSH, and the state wants all SVPs at CSH by mid-2008.

Drastic changes since appointment of court monitors[edit]

In recent years, the hospital, under the threat of a lawsuit by the United States Justice Department alleging violations of the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act, has been implementing a court approved Enhancement Plan to bring the hospital into compliance with CRIPA. The Enhancement Plan was proposed and implemented by the "Human Potential Consulting Group" out of Alexandria, Virginia. This consulting group consists of various clinical professionals who have been contracted by other states to ensure compliance with CRIPA. In some states the consultants serve as court monitors while others serve as consultants. They regularly switch roles from Justice Department monitors to consultants, depending on the state.

The enhancement plan is now generally regarded by the vast majority of clinical staff at ASH as a failure. The amount of paperwork has increased astronomically and the time spent with patients building trust and rapport has dropped. The cost for caring for patients at ASH has gone from $130,000 per patient per year to over $200,000. This is a direct result of the changes mandated by the court monitors. The institution is now considered a much more dangerous place to work, again from changes mandated by the court monitors. Assaults on staff and on other patients has increased dramatically, both in numbers and in severity. This is also considered by staff to be attributed to the Enhancement Plan, which put severe restrictions on the ability of psychiatrists to medicate violent patients and the discretion of staff to place violent, assaultive patients in restraints or seclusion.

Many staff believe that the treatment of the patients at ASH has become less humane since the court monitors have directed so many radical changes in the way that these forensic psychiatric patients are treated.

Employees, staff and officers[edit]

ASH employs a staff of over 1800, with on-site training programs for a variety of schools, including nurse practitioner programs, clinical psychology internship programs, and psychiatric technician training.

Popular culture[edit]

In the film Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Sarah Connor is institutionalised at "Pescadero State Hospital" - a mental institute heavily based on Atascadero State Hospital.

One of radio host Phil Hendrie's recurring fictional characters is Herb Sewell, a former sex offender who was remanded for eight years at Atascadero State Hospital.

It also is referred to in the film The Grifters as the place where 'Cole' is sent after his mental breakdown.


  1. ^ a b "Atascadero State Hospital patient killed in attack". The San Diego Union-Tribune. May 29, 2014. 
  2. ^ "Atascadero State Hospital". The Joint Commission. Archived from the original on 2007-09-27. Retrieved 2007-08-01. 
  3. ^ WILLIAM N. ESKRIDGE, JR (1997). "PRIVACY JURISPRUDENCE AND THE APARTHEID OF THE CLOSET, 1946-1961". Florida State University Law Review. 
  4. ^ Romney, Lee (April 4, 2008). "Patient's slaying rattles hospital". Los Angeles Times. p. B1. 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 35°27′49″N 120°38′06″W / 35.46361°N 120.63500°W / 35.46361; -120.63500