On Springfield

Protecting Social Service Workers

In January of 2011, a 25-year-old mental health counselor named Stephanie Moulton was found dead in the parking lot behind a church in Lynn. By the end of the day, police had arrested one of the clients at the Revere group home where she worked, Deshawn James. James—described in press accounts as a schizophrenic with a record of violence—was charged with stabbing Moulton at the home, then taking her car and leaving her body at the church.

Moulton had been working alone at the group home that day. Last summer, the federal Occupation and Safety Health Administration fined her employer for failing to provide adequate safety measures, such as ensuring that no staff member be alone in the house. The North Suffolk Mental Health Association was fined $7,000—a pitiful amount, but the maximum allowed by law.

Tomorrow, Feb. 8—what would have been Moulton’s 27th birthday—her mother, Kim Flynn, will speak at a candlelight vigil in Springfield, held in memory of her daughter. The event will also serve as a public call for stronger protections for human-service workers, such a safe staffing ratios.

The rally, scheduled for 5:30 p.m. at Court Square, is organized by SEIU Local 509, MassCOSH and the National Association of Social Workers and will include addresses by union representatives as well as state Rep. Cheryl Coakley-Rivera (D-Springfield) and City Council President Jimmy Ferrera. Vigils are also planned in Peabody and New Bedford.

Shortly after Moulton’s death, Jose Roldan, a worker at a Lowell homeless shelter, was also murdered, allegedly by a client with mental-health issues. “In light of the two deaths, it is clear that safety is a persistent problem and should be major priority,” organizers of the vigil say. “These deaths occurred amidst budget cuts and a reorganization of mental health services.” The organizers and supporters are calling on the state Legislature and Gov. Deval Patrick to increase funding for mental-health services, for the good of clients and workers alike.

Flynn, Moulton’s mother, is also advocating for a bill, dubbed “Stephanie’s Law,” filed last year by state Sen. Fred Berry (D-Peabody), which would residential facilities licensed by the Department of Mental Health to have “panic buttons” or other security devices that would allow employees to call for help when needed.

© 2014 The Valley Advocate