By DaVe Ranney
KHI News Service
TOPEKA — A union that represents state employees is planning a protest of working conditions at Larned State Hospital.
“It’ll probably be later this week or early next week,” said Mike Marvin, head of the Kansas Organization of State Employees. “We’re trying to come up with a time that the most people will be able to be there.”
The rally, he said, likely would be near the southwest entrance of the hospital. Employees will talk about the tolls that persistent overtime has taken on their family lives, quality of care for patients and other concerns.
Marvin said the union has received ongoing reports from workers complaining about full-time aides and mid-level nurses having to work two or more 12- or 16-hour shifts a week.
“This has got to come to an end,” he said. “It’s ridiculous. It’s not fair to our people and it’s not fair to people they care for. When people put in that many hours they make mistakes and when mistakes are made it makes for unsafe conditions.”
Rachel Heubach, 27, said she left her job at the Larned hospital in February after working there 11 months.
“I’m a single mom with three kids,” Heubach said. “I have no family here in Larned. So when my kids get sick or when day care gets cancelled I have to call in and say I can’t make it. But when you do that, you get yelled at. It’s an incredibly stressful place to work.”
Heubach said she often was expected to work 14- or 16-hour shifts every other day.
“What happens is they call you and say you have to stay for six more hours or eight more hours,” she said. “If you say you can’t, you get written up. After three write-ups, you’re fired.”
Heubach said she worked as a mental health/developmental disabilities technician and was paid $12.66 an hour.
“For somebody like me, that’s the best paying job in Larned,” she said. “I didn’t have a problem with the patients. I loved my job at first but after a while my unit leaders just beat me down emotionally. It’s like if you can’t work 60 hours a week, they don’t want you.”
Larned State Hospital is one of the three state-run hospitals for the mentally ill in Kansas. Admissions are limited to adults considered to be a potential danger to themselves or others.
Last year, national surveyors cited the hospital for not having enough nurses and for not doing enough to ensure that medications were safely dispensed. The findings put the hospital’s accreditation — and potentially $14.5 million in federal aid — in jeopardy.
The hospital passed a follow-up inspection in October.
But Marvin said workers still were being forced to work double shifts, regardless of their personal circumstances. He said he had told Larned State Hospital Superintendent Thomas Kinlen that unless the issue was resolved, KOSE was prepared to file a complaint with U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Bruce Hylman, a senior labor relations representative for KOSE in Topeka, said he knew of an aide who had worked 23 consecutive hours.
“Her (KOSE) steward went to her unit leader and said, ‘Send this women home now,’” Hylman said. “She didn’t even know what day it was. That’s how worn out she was.”
KOSE represents many of the hospital’s aides and licensed practical nurses. It does not represent the facility’s registered nurses.
Angela de Rocha, a spokesperson for the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services, which oversees the hospital, said the agency was aware of the “overtime situation” and has asked a hospital-based task force to come with solutions.
“Larned (State Hospital) overtime hours are 16 percent lower than they were a year ago at this time and are trending downward,” de Rocha said, but she also said she couldn’t provide numbers on how much overtime was clocked at the facility over the past two months or how much it expected to pay out over the course of the fiscal year that ends June 30.
Hylman said he’d seen a payroll report that showed the hospital had paid slightly more than 4,000 hours in overtime in the second two weeks in February.
Since January, de Rocha said, the hospital has decided to increase its one-on-one staffing for high-risk patients in its psychiatric unit and its Sexual Predator Treatment Program.
“At one point, we had 10 patients receiving one-on-one care,” de Rocha said. “Currently, we have three long-term, one-on-one patents. There have been others who’ve been off-and-on since that time.”
De Rocha said KDADS has hired a consulting firm to help figure out “…how to make the more efficient use of the resources we have,” at all three state mental hospitals.
Agency officials in Topeka had no response when asked if it was hospital policy to fire people who refused to work overtime.
Larned State Hospital includes a 90-bed psychiatric unit, a 190-bed forensic unit, and the 177-bed Sexual Predator Treatment Program.
All three units often exceed their licensed capacities.