- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 30, 2014

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - The Department of Health and Human Resources is facing a June 11 deadline to come up with a plan to address staffing shortages and other issues at the state’s two psychiatric hospitals.

Kanawha County Circuit Court Judge Louis “Duke” Bloom ordered the DHHR to develop a comprehensive plan on Tuesday, The Charleston Gazette reported (http://bit.ly/1n1dOVP).

“I want the department to prepare and be prepared to present to the court their plan to correct these problems, and they should consult with the Governor’s Office, the Division of Personnel, and have an action plan ready for immediate implementation,” Bloom said.

“Don’t come back and tell me that’s it’s subject to legislative approval. . I want to know what your plan is. Failure to do so, and the court may very well have to develop its own plan.”

Bloom’s order came in a case originally filed in 1981, known as the Hartley case, that centers on the treatment of mental health patients.

As of March 30, there were 48 vacant positions at William R. Sharpe Hospital in Weston and 41 vacancies at Mildred Mitchell-Bateman Hospital in Huntington. Both hospitals also lack critical-care staff that put them in violation of state code.

Contractual employees and mandatory overtime are utilized to keep the hospitals adequately staffed, Victoria Jones, commissioner for the DHHR’s Bureau for Behavioral Health and Health Facilities, testified Tuesday.

Sharpe and Bateman recorded 4,162 hours of overtime among employees in March. Employees requested 2,876 hours of unscheduled leave during the same period. Jones attributed the disparity to other needs that require additional overtime for both facilities.

“We have a number of individuals on accommodation, which means they have various reasons they’ve unable to work, or unable to work for more than eight hours a day,” Jones said. “We have changes in our acuity that unexpectedly require us to maintain additional levels of employment on our units, and we have scheduled leave hours that are not counted within unscheduled leave hours.”

Wages are another issue.

New employees are hired at starting salaries well below those at private facilities. Raises and incentives are insufficient to retain existing employees, said Jennifer Wagner, managing attorney for Mountain State Justice, which represents the patients at both hospitals in the Hartley case.

Bloom had ordered the DHHR in 2009 to give pay raises to staff in certain classifications. Jones said the agency eliminated a 3 percent retention incentive so that it could remain within its budget.

Another hearing in the case is set for June 11.

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Information from: The Charleston Gazette, http://www.wvgazette.com

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