64-hour work week unfair, unsafe
In response to the alarm sounded by the Wisconsin State Employees Union about serious understaffing issues at the Wisconsin Veterans Home in King, top administration officials have opted to shoot the messenger instead of attack the problem.
The department issued a memo disputing numbers derived directly from the facility's posted schedule. King's most recent schedule calls for 950 shifts of overtime in the next month. That extreme level of overtime will require many forced shifts. The stress induced by forced overtime is making matters worse, leading to a wave of resignations and undermining the quality of care.
The department also took pains to dispute the fact that medical staff members are deeply concerned about how understaffing is compromising care at King. An open records request would reveal communication from medical staff at the facility raising precisely such concerns. But open records requests take time, and in the mean time the department must hope attention will be drawn elsewhere.
The department's secretary says he "cannot surmise" where AFSCME has gotten its numbers for overtime. Perhaps the secretary should remove his head from the sand and make a thorough review of the facility's posted schedule. The number is there in black and white.
Better yet, top administrators should stop trying to make escuses and try working a 64-hour week at King. Apparently, they need to see it for themselves because on July 9 the department issued a gag order warning employees that communicating with media about workplace conditions could be grounds for firing.
After taking an honest look at what they have done, top brass then should take a long look in the mirror and ask themselves how they can allow such a crisis to develop on their watch. They like to talk about "solvency" but operate from a position of moral bankruptcy. Our veterans deserve better.
Marty Beil is executive director of the Wisconsin State Employees Union, AFSCME Council 24.
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