Overtime part of the job for some state workers

06/08/2013 5:02 PM

08/08/2014 10:17 AM

A therapist at Larned State Hospital made nearly $51,000 in overtime last year, and a licensed practical nurse at the hospital made an extra $40,000, according to state records.

Several highway patrol troopers racked up $26,000 to $28,000 in overtime.

Some state workers have been putting in long hours lately. Overtime paid by state agencies rose 25 percent from 2010 to 2012 and is on track to increase further this year, records show.

Overtime pay increased from $10.2 million in fiscal 2010 to $12.7 million in fiscal 2012. It was at slightly more than $13 million through May 25 of this fiscal year, which ends June 30, according to figures released by the Kansas Department of Administration. State agencies have paid a total of $46.5 million in overtime from 2010 through 2013.

The Kansas Department of Transportation, the Kansas Highway Patrol, and the state’s mental health hospitals and corrections facilities lead in overtime pay.

Reasons for overtime vary by agency. While staff shortage is a common theme, most agencies cite factors specific to them as reasons their workers are having long days and, often, nights.

KDOT, which tops the list with $11 million in overtime since 2010, said the bulk of its overtime pay is due to inspections at construction sites all over the state. The state’s new T-Works program, which included more than 30 major highway projects, kicked off in 2010.

State officials said the mental health hospitals in Larned and Osawatomie, as well as correctional facilities, have battled high job-vacancy rates, forcing long overtime hours for employees.

The problems are especially acute at Larned State Hospital, where workers were paid $5.8 million in overtime during the four-year period. The overtime pay at Larned, with 778 workers, was second to KDOT, which has 2,531 workers.

Three of the top four state employees in overtime pay for the calendar year 2012 — and eight of the top 20 — worked at the hospital, according to an Eagle analysis of state salary records.

Most of the overtime at the hospitals is being forced upon workers, said Mike Marvin, executive director of the Kansas Organization of State Employees, which represents 7,600 state employees, including those at the two mental health hospitals.

“We have a lot of people that are working 16-hour shifts two or three days a week,” he said.

Marvin said Larned, which houses adult psychiatric patients who were committed or referred by the courts, as well as people in the sexual predator program, has trouble hiring and retaining direct-care staff who work closely with patients to take care of their needs and protect them from themselves and others. The numbers of those workers are dropping daily, he said.

“People are still walking out. They’re getting tired of all the overtime, the intimidation and just the politics of the place,” Marvin said.

One direct-care worker, Scott Towery, a mental health developmental disability technician who has worked at Larned for 12 years, said there are more than 50 vacancies in the tech staff. Techs make about $26,000, he said. State records show that one tech made $22,822 in overtime in 2012.

Towery, who heads the KOSE local union, said he has walked into units at the hospital and found workers in tears from stress and exhaustion. He found one worker who didn’t know what day of the week it was, he said. Workers lose time with families, can’t make doctor’s appointments or plan personal activities, and don’t know when they’ll return home as they head to work.

Hospital employees held a rally in Larned in April to protest their working conditions.

Marvin said the situation is as bad at Osawatomie State Hospital, which had $1.9 million in overtime pay among its 370 employees since 2010. Overtime at Osawatomie jumped from $567,000 in 2012 to $989,000 this year.

“They’re scared to death. There’s tons of mandatory overtime going on there,” Marvin said. “It’s just horrendous the way the state treats these people.”

Hospital staff vacancies

The Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services oversees the two hospitals. Angela de Rocha, communications director for the department, said in an e-mail to The Eagle that the overtime totals at Larned and Osawatomie were due to increased staff vacancies.

“This was related to a number of factors including that pay had not been increased for some time (it was increased last fall for nurses), and the increasing challenge of recruitment in a rural environment. We also have had some leadership challenges,” she said in the e-mail.

In March, the job vacancy rate at Larned was 19.6 percent, de Rocha said. That included 17.1 percent among direct-care technicians, 23.8 percent among registered nurses, and 29.6 percent among licensed practical nurses and licensed mental health technicians.

The vacancy rate at Osawatomie has risen slightly — from 16 percent to 17 percent — over the past year, she said.

The department has said overtime at Larned has decreased from last year even though the hospital has taken steps that added overtime. It has been providing more one-on-one staffing in the sexual predator program and in the psychiatric unit for high-risk patients, de Rocha said.

It also opened a new 30-bed unit, requiring more staffing and more overtime.

“We have hired more staff and employ more staff than we did a year ago,” de Rocha said in the e-mail. “While we have made improvements, we still have a long way to go.”

The department has taken steps to help the situation that include creating a nursing task force, developing staff float pools to fill gaps in staffing, using automated scheduling processes, developing focus groups of nursing staff to provide expert insight on the problem, strengthening recruitment processes and creating a new leadership and supervisory training program, de Rocha said.

De Rocha said operational assessments of all state hospitals are under way to determine how to make the most efficient use of their resources. She expects the results to be reported later this month or in July.

After-hours work required

At KDOT, overtime pay has averaged about $2.7 million since 2010. Steve Swartz, department spokesman, said KDOT is required to have inspectors at every state road construction site to make sure specifications are being met.

“They work the same hours as construction crews, which often start before daylight and go overnight,” he said. “In Wichita, we do a lot of nighttime construction for traffic reasons, so our guys will be out there.”

Swartz said there can be up to 10 inspectors on one job, depending on the size and complexity of the project. KDOT will have more than 100 jobs under way at any given time during construction season, he said.

KDOT also racks up overtime in maintenance work such as snow and ice removal, he said.

The Kansas Highway Patrol recorded $5.6 million in overtime in the last four years. Its overtime pay rose from $1.3 million in 2010 to $1.5 million in 2013.

Lt. Josh Kellerman, KHP public information officer, said much of that overtime comes from troopers who work in specialized areas such as the bomb and K-9 units, and those who pilot KHP airplanes — jobs that require them to work outside normal eight-hour shifts.

The department also has been hit hard by retirements, Kellerman said.

“When you have retirements, instead of three or four guys in a county you may be down to one or two,” he said.

No overtime, no ‘warm body’

The Kansas Juvenile Corrections Complex in Topeka totaled $2.1 million in overtime since 2010, but has seen a decline in overtime from $661,311 in 2012 to $529,816 this year.

Jeremy Barclay, communications director for the Kansas Department of Corrections and the Juvenile Justice Authority, said a high turnover rate led to staffing shortages at the facility, but this year it has started moving some of its youths to the juvenile corrections facility in Larned, which has helped reduce overtime.

Staff recruiting efforts have been stepped up, and pay has been increased for its officers to bring them into parity with officers at adult correctional facilities.

“Increasing that parity helped retention efforts,” Barclay said.

The Kansas Bureau of Investigation saw its overtime for 2013 soar to $433,665 from $280,675 in 2012. Kyle Smith, deputy director of the KBI, said one reason was an extensive 13-month narcotics investigation in Junction City that led to more than 100 arrests. The investigation used nearly the entire 30-agent narcotics division, he said.

Smith also said the bureau, which is down 19 agents primarily due to budget reasons, began an effort this year to pay overtime rather than comp time because there’s a limit to the amount of comp time allowed.

“You get to the point where you can’t call a person to work. If you don’t have overtime to pay, you don’t have a warm body,” he said.

Contributing: Hurst Laviana of The Eagle

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