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Larned State Hospital employees tell their stories
KOSE sponsors downtown rally
Photo by Jim Misunas Great Bend Tribune Tristan Shaver, a mental health developmental disability technician at the Sexual Predator Treatment Program, speaks with her child at her side Saturday.

By Jim Misunas

LARNED -- Three employees at Larned State Hospital facilities told their stories Saturday of mandated overtime and frustration with a work schedule that makes maintaining a "normal" family life impossible. 

Mike Marvin, head of the Kansas Organization of State Employees, said aides and mid-level nurses are often being required to work two or more 12- or 16-hour shifts a week.

KOSE represents many of the hospital’s mental health developmental disability aides and licensed practical nurses. The employees said their work arrangement gives LSH management the ability to schedule "mandated overtime," which a Kansas Organization of State Employees official was written to cover emergency situations, not day-to-day scheduling.

Employees said the mandated overtime, sometimes, with little or no warning, make them miss their children's school and sports events. They  constantly are forced to schedule family medical appointments.

Guest speakers were Tristan Shaver, mental health disability development tech for the Sexual Predator Treatment Program; Melissa Strain, MHDD tech, State Security Program; and Elizabeth Earegood, MHDD tech, Psychiatric Services Program.

Shaver is a six-year single parent who enjoys her job and fellow workers. Shaver said a 60-hour week is compounded by another 12-hour day the next week. She said there is little or no warning about mandated overtime.

"My life has changed dramatically and I rarely get to see my child because of the mandated overtime," she said. "I work on average 20 to 25 hours of overtime a week. We are constantly being told to rearrange our overtime, but yet are given no help to take the time off.

"She said it is typical to work six consecutive days with two days off, then repeating that schedule."Working 12 to 16-hour days for six days is straining while taking care of your family," she said. "We do not know when we will be given 'mandated overtime.' If you inform the person who are working with that you have other obligations, they do not care."

Shaver said a supervisor will often warn her 'she will be written up for refusing overtime,' and hang up the phone.She said the overtime takes a toll on the employees.

"You can get run down and find yourself going through the motions. This creates a dangerous situation for the employee, patients and agency," she said. "We are constantly working under minimum staffing levels to run a unit. Something has to change. We have a lot of hard-working employees. Enough is enough."

Strain has worked seven years in her present capacity at the State Security Program at the Isaac Ray building that houses inmates who are considered a danger to themselves or society.

Strain said employees have to file a "leave request," to help insure they won't be forced to work mandated overtime on a particular day."

Single parents really struggle, especially with young children, because they are forced to expected to find someone else to raise their children," Strain said. Strain related a story about a mother with four young children who struggled to find a balance with her home life that was impossible with  mandated overtime. There were three or four times a week where she had to rearrange her daily schedule.  

"Our families are suffering because they are tired and unhappy with their jobs and trickles to their home life," she said. "Our children are struggling in school academically and behaviorally because they are not getting the attention they deserve."

Earegood works as the Psychiatric Services Program and has been a 30-year LSH employee in various capacities. She has been forced to work mandated overtime for more than a year. She is a third-generation Larned State Hospital employee.

"The Kansas Department of Aging and Disability promotes security, dignity and independence while promoting direct care. We are doing that for patients," she said. "Why can't we do that for employees? At one time, we were not treated like a number. Now, we feel like we are cattle being herded. We are told to not go home until they tell you can go home. That can be 10 or 20 hours for a period at a time. Our voices need to be heard. We want this to change."

Earegood said she likes her work and has always believed she has made a difference in people's lives.

Marvin said some supervisors are apparently hired without little training on how to supervise and speak to employees. 

"There can be no other word then abuse," he said. "I see little if any improvement in the way first line supervisors and middle management treat employees. It is the every day manner in which they deal with employees and the lack of respect when dealing with employees."

Of 201 MHDD techs employed at LSH, 18 percent have worked for less than a year and 56 percent have worked for less than three years. Marvin said he is concerned about retaining experienced employees.

"We call upon Governor Brownback and the legislature to provide funding to improve wages," Marvin said. "Our MHDD techs, despite what the governor's PR people say have not had a raise since 2005 with the small exception of in 2011 of moving those with two years or less seniority up one notch on the payline to be equal in pay with those who have been doing this job for 20 years or more.

"Reinstitute step raises and place people at the correct step and you will go along way towards retaining quality experienced employees," he said. "This is true in all other agencies also, employees have no way to advance in their job class."