Oregon State Hospital Workers Protest Mandatory Overtime

From OPB.org, April 15, 2010

The use of mandatory overtime is on the rise at the Oregon State Hospital. Some employees there say it’s gotten to the point of jeopardizing staff and patient safety.

Workers staged a protest outside the Salem mental institution Wednesday.

The possibility of working an unplanned shift is part of the union contract for mental health therapists.

But employees like Brant Johnson said it’s happening much more often than it used to. Johnson said he’s frequently required to work 16 hours straight or risk being disciplined.

“It’s not safe for me. It’s not safe for my residents that I’m supposed to be accountable for and make sure that they are getting their needs met. I’m not operating at 100 percent for sure,” he said.

According to numbers provided by the Oregon Department of Human Services, mandatory overtime is on pace to more than double this year over last year.

Agency spokeswoman Patty Wentz says that’s because the hospital is relying less on seclusion and physical restraint to subdue patients.

Those techniques put the hospital under intense federal scrutiny, but Wentz said the alternatives require a higher level of staffing.

She said the state is trying to hire more mental health therapists to reduce mandatory overtime.