Nursing staff at the Wisconsin Veterans Home (WVH) in King are working 64-hour weeks, according to the union that represents them.
Marty Beil, executive director of the Wisconsin State Employees Union, AFSCME Council 24, said staff vacancies at WVH have led to forced overtime.
“Three weeks ago, all employees were given their schedules for the next 30 days,” Beil said. “Without accounting for any sick leave, the schedule had 950 shifts of overtime.”
Beil said employees, especially frontline health care staff, are working 16-hour shifts three days a week, in addition to two eight-hour days. It is not uncommon for nursing staff to work more than 60 hours per week, he said.
“These are direct care workers. How can anyone work that amount of time and it not affect the quality of care?” Beil said.
Beil attributed the overtime to staff shortages at WVH. He said that although the Legislature has authorized hiring more than 30 new nurses this year, most of those positions remain unfilled, in part because new hires at the home are not staying due to the stress associated with long overtime hours.
“Recruitment and retention are horrible,” according to Troy Bauch, an AFSCME field representative who works with WVH employees. “The home hired 10 new CNAs and three of them quit on the same day.”
Beil also said the administration needed to consider “open recruitment,” if it wanted to fill the positions in a more timely manner.
“Open recruitment has been rejected at King,” Beil said.
“AFSCME Council 24’s allegations that chronic staff shortages threaten the quality of care at the King Home are 100 percent false,” according to John Scocos, Secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs.
Scocos said the WDVA has been given authority to hire nearly 40 new health care staff at the vets home, has adopted open recruitment policies and is holding a job fair in King specifically to recruit RNs, LPNs and CNAs.
“The WDVA has been working aggressively to fill direct care positions,” Scocos said in a memo released in response to AFSCME criticism of administrative policies. “As of July 30, 2012, the WVH-King will only have 18 direct-care positions open of a total of 494 direct care positions.”
Bauch took issue with the WDVA numbers regarding open positions.
“It’s their anticipation that they will fill those positions by July 30, but it’s not going to happen,” Bauch said. “If they are really only 18 positions short, then why do they have to fill 950 eight-hour slots of overtime in a month?”
In his memo, Scocos said that only four of the home’s direct care staff have been forced to work three additional eight-hour shifts a week of overtime in the past three months.
“When the administration say it’s not forced overtime, they’re ignoring the facts,” Bauch said. “When the schedule comes out, the staff can either ‘volunteer’ for overtime and pick which additional shifts are more convenient for their families and personal schedules or be assigned which overtime shifts they’ll work,”
Beil said forced overtime has become so unbearable that many long-term employees are quitting.
Some are sacrificing their benefits to return as LTEs (limited term employee), where at least they have some say about their schedule. This puts even greater stress on the family life and health of remaining staff members, who are forced to pick up even more shifts,” Beil said.
In response, Scocos said, “Over the past three months, of the 30 WVH-King employees who resigned, only four reported that overtime was a factor in their decision.”
Scocos attributed the nursing shortage to growth in the number of residents at the home. He noted that the census at WVH-King had been shrinking since November 2008.
The home’s population dropped to 650 veterans in April 2011, resulting in a $5 million deficit that fiscal year.
In July 2011, WVH streamlined its admissions process and the census levels improved. Since November 2011, the home has had an average population of 700 veterans, according to WDVA figures.
“Overall, the campus is growing while overtime has remained stable and is actually decreasing,” Scocos said,
Beil said that admitting more veterans is contributing to the problem. He noted that many of the new admissions require higher levels of care and are stretching thin resources even thinner.
The union will host a special listening session with King employees from noon to 3 p.m. Thursday, July 26, at Local 555 Union House, directly across from the WVH.