Larned nursing director fired

5/1/2013

By JOHN GREEN

By JOHN GREEN

Special to the Telegram

LARNED — Larned State Hospital terminated its nursing director last week, though state officials wouldn't comment on why.

About 50 hospital workers, meanwhile, rallied outside the Pawnee County Courthouse on Saturday to draw attention to the working conditions at the facility.

Zena Jacobs began employment at Larned State Hospital in February 2009.

She reportedly became nursing director in July 2011, assuming the post after her predecessor was terminated.

Jacobs declined comment Monday.

"They've got a system in place to cover her responsibilities," said Angela de Rocha, a spokeswoman for the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services, which oversees the hospital.

De Rocha didn't say what measures the hospital will take to fill the post or how long a search might take.

The change in nursing directors might actually be a positive step for employees, based on complaints from the employees, said Mike Marvin, executive director of the Kansas Organization of State Employees. Otherwise, employee concerns about the number of overtime hours they must work continue.

"I don't know why they fired her," Marvin said. "There were a lot of issues around her. I just hope they replace her with someone who knows how to deal with employees."

Of the overtime, full-time aides and mid-level nurses regularly work multiple 12- or 16-hour shifts each week, he said.

All employees have been on mandatory 48-hour workweeks since September 2011.

"It went well," Marvin said of the rally. "Four or five employees told stories about problems the mandatory overtime have caused them and their home lives."

"It's a step" in attempting to address issues at the hospital, Marvin said of the rally. "There will be more things coming in the future. We're trying to make it a public fight."

When hospital employees go to work in the morning, Marvin said, "they don't know what time, day to day, that they might get home. They know they're going to work at least two 12-hours days that week, but it may be 16 hours, and there may be three 16-hour days that week. It's not healthy for employees and it does not provide safe treatment for patients."

The state acknowledges an employee shortage, which is causing the extensive overtime, Marvin said, "but they're not doing anything about it."

"All their efforts are concentrated on attracting new help, rather than retaining the current employees. We've beat on them and beat on them about the things they need to do to help retain employees, but it's almost like there's an attitude that 'We'll abuse them while we've got them and replace them when they leave.' "

Currently, 36 percent of the front-line employees have less than a year of service at the hospital, and 56 percent of the 200-plus mental health/developmental disabilities technicians have less than three years' experience, Marvin said.

The secured hospital campus, one of the three state-run hospitals for the mentally ill in Kansas, includes a 90-bed psychiatric unit, a 190-bed forensic unit and the 177-bed Sexual Predator Treatment Program.

The situation may be even worse at the 176-bed Osawatomie State Hospital, Marvin said.

"A lot of the issues come from the fact there have been no pay increases for the vast majority of people," Marvin said. "Angela (de Rocha) will tell you there were raises in 2011, but that was for people with two years or less of seniority. And what it did was make their pay equal to someone who's worked there 20 years. Now, someone straight out of training gets the same money as someone there 20 years."

Marvin credited Larned Superintendent Dr. Tom Kinlen for his efforts, but said there's a great need for supervisory training for others at the facility.

"This has been coming to a head for a long time," he said. "People can only take it for so long."

Marvin said he'll sit down with his staff and union leaders from the hospital "to evaluate what good came out of the rally and what we need to do; what's a good positive next step." Under state law, the employees, though unionized, cannot legally go on strike.

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