The state Department of Health and Human Resources spends millions of dollars on overtime at two state-run psychiatric hospitals and asks staffers to work 16-hour shifts on consecutive days, according to testimony and evidence presented Wednesday in Kanawha County Circuit Court.
DHHR also failed to comply with a 2009 court order that required the department to give more than $500,000 in raises to staffers who work with psychiatric patients.
Kanawha Circuit Judge Duke Bloom ordered DHHR to give the raises after he heard testimony during Wednesday's hearing. The hearing was meant to update Bloom on the so-called Hartley Case, a 1981 case that remains open and centers on the treatment of mental health patients in the state.
A staffer at William R. Sharpe Jr. Hospital in Weston said the hospital was suffering staff shortages because of vacancies. In turn, staffers are being asked to work long hours.
That's wearing down staff, said Jamie Beaton, the Sharpe staffer who testified.
"They get tired," Beaton said of coworkers. "They get short tempered, so to speak. They get a short fuse."
Patient advocates and union officials contend the shortages exist because the state is underpaying its workers. They also say the shortages mean that patients are suffering from lower quality care. Beaton is a member of UE Local 170, which represents some state workers.
Data from Mildred Mitchell-Bateman Hospital in Huntington also shows staffers there are working long hours.
A report prepared by Bateman CEO Vickie Jones shows 21 staffers worked more than 56 hours apiece during one week in mid-August. Their normal workweek would be 40 if not for the overtime.
The report shows one staffer worked a 16-hour day on Sunday, Aug. 12; then 12 hours on Monday; then 16 hours on Tuesday; and then 12 hours on Wednesday. Another worked three 16-hour days in a row.
All of this costs money.
Jones said the state's overtime costs are "greater than $1 million" a year per hospital.