The Wisconsin Veterans Home has the tools it needs to deal with its staffing shortage.
That is what the unions that represent the employees at King said Thursday, July 26, during a listening session.
“The solution is simple,” said Troy Bauch, Wisconsin State Employees Union North Central field representative. “Constant recruitment is what they need to do.”
Bauch was joined by Marty Beil, executive director of the Wisconsin State Employees Union, AFSCME Council 24, in hosting the listening session with employees at the Local 555 Union House.
The session was held from noon to 3 p.m. to give employees the opportunity to talk about vacancies and overtime.
“The employees at King got a gag order. They were reminded not to have media contact,” Bauch said.
During the listening session – held across the street from the veterans home – one certified nursing assistant said CNAs are averaging three to four overtime shifts per week, working 12 or 16-hour shifts.
Another said that when nurses work more than 12 hours per day, or 60 hours in a week, they are more likely to make medical errors.
Others said working that many hours can also lead to injuries on the job.
One employee described what the monthly schedule typically looks like.
Once a month (on a Friday), the schedule comes out with everyone’s positions, patterns and days off, she said.
Each building gets its schedule at the same time. In addition, a “hole” sheet comes out, showing which shifts need to yet be filled.
“Then, we have one week, until 2 p.m. the following Friday, to put our holes sheet in,” she said.
That is when the final schedule is posted.
Volunteered overtime and forced overtime – at a minimum of four-hour increments – are penciled into the schedule.
The employee said that at 10:20 a.m. on Wednesday, July 25, five shifts were posted needing one-on-one care for one floor in one building.
If no one volunteered for the shifts by 9 a.m. Thursday, July 26, then some employees would have received hand-delivered notices telling them they have been scheduled to work those shifts, she said.
“I want to make it clear,” Bauch said, “If you refuse to volunteer for overtime, you will be forced overtime on your days off.”
He said employees are losing control over their work lives.
Several pointed to the number of members being admitted who require one-on-one supervision around the clock.
Bauch said if the home continues admitting higher acuity members and does not hire more staff, problems will continue.
“King knows how many hours of overtime it has. I have requested it and been told I have to do an open records request,” he said. “It’s frustrating. We’re not making up secrets. What is happening there is horrible for the people who work and live there. Someone is not telling the truth, and it’s not me.”
He said there used to be monthly meetings to address concerns but they are not being held anymore.
“Issues are not getting addressed,” Bauch said.
There was a listening session a month ago. Employees who attended had to do so on their own time.
He said a job fair held last week was a great thing.
“But why did it take all this time to come up with the idea of a job fair?” Bauch asked. “I just want to make it clear that the overtime exists, the vacancies still exict. It’s not getting better.”
Three weeks ago, the names of employees who had been on workers compensation and why were posted on bulletin boards, he said.
“That is a HPPA violation,” he said.
Beil said that typically, a report is issued that shows the number and type of injuries employees had. “To post this all over the institution sends a message,” he said.
Bauch said that until staffing is stabilized, the veterans home needs to stop admitting new members.
“It’s going to cost them some money because they won’t be at 100 percent beds,” he said.
The veterans home also has the ability to give sign-on bonuses for vacant positions, whether it is in nursing, housekeeping or the kitchen, he said.
“There’s lots of tools out there,” Beil said. “Apprenticeships are the best – having folks here go to the high school and say why you should make a career at the veterans home. But now, it’s toxic.”
Bauch said the veterans home used to have a program in which employees could continue to progress in nursing, from a CNA to a registered nurse.
“It was very successful,” he said. “It is gone.”
Beil said it appears that the administration of the veterans home is making decisions about staffing based on population.
“But, I am hearing here that the acuity level has increased. The member today is not the same as 10 years ago. The department should factor in acuity,” he said.