The Queque - October 20, 2010

SASH attacks

Whether washing dishes, pushing unruly wheelchairs, or subduing violent patients, life for the staff of the San Antonio State Hospital is no walk in the park. Last year, the Current spotlighted the case of Lydia Lopez, a 15-year veteran nursing aide at SASH who was beaten so badly that doctors had to install a metal plate in her wrist and screws in her back. She blamed the attack on understaffing at the hospital. With state budget cuts anticipated from Austin in 2011, we can bank on more of the same. At least eight other employees have been injured in violent episodes in the last two years, according to documents released to the Current as part of a state Open Records request.

Two days before Christmas in 2008, another 15-year employee, Howard Fields, was talking with a hospital visitor when he was blindsided by a patient, knocking him to the floor and into a wooden planter box. “Next thing I know I found myself picking myself off the floor,” he said at the time.

Last summer, Terrence Manuel Salas was pulled to the floor by his genitals by a patient who then tried to “rip off” his ear and bit his finger. “He asked if I wanna have a piece of him and I said no,” Salas reported to his supervisor. Behavior status on inmate? “Has happened before,” state paperwork reads.

In a case of disputed ointments, another patient turned violent when a nurse tried to provide petroleum jelly in place of the requested brand name Vasoline. “He saw her getting petroleum jelly and said, ‘No, I said Vasoline!’ one staffer wrote in November, 2009. When an employee offered Bacitracin, another nurse wrote: “I already knew that he would insist on Triple Antibiotic Ointment, so as I was trying to offer him TAO he yelled at me, ‘Shut the Fuck up Bitch, I aint talking to you” and hit me. He is psychotic.”

Amidst the other cases of wrist bites, blindsides, and sprains, Lydia Lopez stands out as the worst injury of the year. Supervisor’s note? “Encourage staff not to confront pts alone.”

Lopez maintains workers often don’t have a choice. “We almost always work short like that,” she told the Current, “and it puts us in a very dangerous situation.”

Paper or plasticide?

Industry reps dominating the Solid Waste Management Department’s Single Use Plastic Bags Project have fended off any talk of a plastic bags ban (as rising green star Brownsville recently adopted), voting last week to recommend the San Antonio City Council adopt a less ambitious voluntary program when it considers the matter on November 4. And yet it’s still a strong start for an effort that Bag member and Keep San Antonio Beautiful ED Christina Aronhalt said puts the City among the vanguard of Texas cities concerned with the environmental impact of the ubiquitous plastic flurry of bags that decorate our mesquites, clog our creeks, and — ultimately — merge with the Texas-sized Pacific plastic trash gyre poisoning the planet’s oceans.

The goals were set by representatives of H-E-B, WalMart, JC Penny, the Texas Retailers Association, and Donna Dempsey of the innocuous-sounding Progressive Bag Affiliates which is actually (as reported by Que2 back in August) backed by the American Chemistry Council, a group committed to fighting plastic-bag bans with recycling campaigns. (Check out However, the recycling campaign will be led by Aronhalt at Keep San Antonio Beautiful, who supports these more “reasonable” measures.

Goals include increasing bag recycling by 25 percent in Alamo City and stuffing bags fuller to cut down on the number being released in the first place.

“People really have to understand the issue and the reasoning behind it,” Aronhalt said. “If we can all step up to the plate and do our part instead of having something mandated … I think a mandatory program should never be a first step. In my opinion one of the very last steps we want to take. We have to give the public the opportunity to change behaviors, learn why it’s important, rather than slap another something on ‘em.”

She warned additional fees could be charged for the bags under a ban, penalizing low-income SA residents. Robin Schneider at Texas Campaign for the Environment, however, said rather than penalize the poor, store owners have the option instead to reward those using reusable bags with discounts. “That will get the message out there real quick,” Schneider said. “When they want to sell us something, they can sell it. It doesn’t take them three years to figure out how to sell us something. They just don’t want to do effective change here.”

So does Aronhalt imagine a San Antonio without plastic bags one day? “Fabulous,” she said, before adding: “Realistic? It’s a whole ‘nother thing to say they don’t have a place in society.”

Discounters want the campaign to work, she said. Otherwise, the Council could reach for the stick instead of the carrot.

Bond boodle

The temper and temperature of Americans will be taken ad nauseam election night. But locally, the best single measure of the mood of the electorate might be read in the fate of the San Antonio Independent School District’s $515-million bond issue.

This is the city’s core school district and it’s definitely showing its age. One of the most accessible examples of the aging of SAISD is at venerable Alamo Stadium and Convocation Center perched on a hill by Trinity University commanding a southern view of the city. Thousands of residents and visitors go through the stadium gates every year to attend high school football games, band festivals, or UIL events. But its decaying old-style bleachers, broken plumbing fixtures, cracked stones and peeling paint show. SAISD bond supporters assure homeowners that the cost of paying off these bonds will begin in 2012 at less than $2 a month for an $80,882 home, which the district calls “average,” and go as high as $9.97 a month in 2027. They also point out that elderly homeowners generally won’t pay any extra taxes because of over-65 exemptions and value caps. But the campaign to earn voter trust starts to run aground at Alamo Stadium. A small portion — $35 million — of the bond is earmarked to upgrade Alamo Stadium. This upgrade was not part of the original mandate of the citizens committee pulled together to advise the district leadership. Alamo Stadium came into the mix through a rather tenuous process that included talks with the San Antonio Spurs organization about the possibility of bringing a pro soccer club to town. Too much time in the weeks since then has been spent by bond supporters tamping down rumors of pro-soccer objectives, but the speculation goes on — another pro-sports venue paid for in whole or in part, like the Alamodome and the AT&T Center, with public tax dollars for games few regular working people can afford to attend.

Leslie Price, spokeswoman for SAISD, says the renovations to Alamo Stadium are meant “to bring these facilities up to a quality comparable to neighboring district stadiums.” She added that there are no discussions under way with the Spurs or any other group about partnerships involving the stadium. “We are open to exploring possible opportunities for partnering — should it benefit our students,” she adds.

The outcome of the SAISD bond issue will offer a glimpse into the levels of both economic stress and political trust felt by a good portion of San Antonio voters.

*Early voting started this week. Election Day is November 2. See for details.

Gravy train

If the $515 million SAISD bonds are approved, they will be sold in increments. In the process, some unfamiliar fees are imposed and various firms make money on the sales.

For example:

One percent of the $515 million — $5,150,000 — will be doled out three ways:

An unnamed bond underwriter receives 75 percent of the proceeds, or $3,862,500.

SAISD’s legal adviser, San Antonio-based law firm Escamilla & Poneck, will receive $643,500 for serving as bond counsel.

SAISD’s financial advisor, national investment banking firm Sterne Agee, would receive $643,500.

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