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Fallen Worker: Stephanie Moulton, Massachusetts

On Jan. 20, 2011, Stephanie Moulton, a 25-year-old social worker, arrived for her day shift at a group home in Revere, Mass. Seven of the patients living in the group home had already left to attend other programs, but Moulton was scheduled to accompany 27-year-old Deshawn Chappell, a newer client at the house, to a counseling session.

Chappell, a diagnosed schizophrenic man with five assault arrests behind him, had stopped taking his medication in the midst of his move from a Charlestown, Mass., group home, from which he was transferred after getting into a fight with another resident.

Moulton and Chappell were scheduled to be alone together in the house until another employee arrived to pick them up for the counseling session. It was not unusual for employees of the North Suffolk Mental Health Association to be working alone. Moulton was not aware of her client’s violent history.

The other North Suffolk employee had pulled up to the Revere house to take the two to the counseling session when she discovered blood in the driveway and noticed that Moulton’s Chrysler PT Cruiser, which was typically parked in the driveway, was missing.

Moulton’s 5-foot-1, 100-pound body was later found, partially nude, dumped in a nearby church parking lot. Chappelle had severely beaten and repeatedly stabbed her to death.

In the wake of Moulton’s murder, OSHA cited the North Suffolk Mental Health Association for a “number of incidents of violence or threatened violence” at locations operated by North Suffolk, and suggested a fine of $7,000 – the maximum amount that can be levied against an employer for a “serious” violation. North Suffolk is contesting those citations for being “overly vague” and for stigmatizing mentally ill patients as a “preventable recognized hazard.” The case is currently pending at the OSHA Review Commission.

OSHA dismissed another North Suffolk worker’s complaint about inadequate staffing in August 2011, saying it lacked jurisdiction. In the complaint, the worker had said that North Suffolk’s cuts “resulted in violence,” as well as “health and safety violations for both clients and staff.”

Moulton’s mother, Kim Flynn, has filed a wrongful death suit against North Suffolk. She also has testified about occupational safety for social workers at the Massachusetts Statehouse, and she is working with lawmakers to pass “Stephanie’s Law,” a state law that would give all workers in mental health facilities a panic button to summon emergency help.

Additionally, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick in February of this year signed into law the “Social Work Safety in the Workforce” bill, which requires all direct services providers that receive funding from the Executive Office of Health and Human Services (HHS) to provide workplace violence prevention and crisis response plans.

Read other stories of fallen workers. Learn more about Workers' Memorial Week of Action.

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