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Big Time Overtime

Troubleshooters Crunch New State Numbers, Hear from Union on Why Figures are High

(Published Thursday, Feb. 25, 2016)

The Troubleshooters exposed allegations of state psychiatric workers sleeping on the job, while earning high amounts of overtime.

Now new numbers show overtime kept rising in 2015 at the state hospital housing Connecticut's most dangerous psychiatric patients. At the same time, new information obtained by the Troubleshooters show complaints have been filed about sleeping on the job!

Forensic treatment specialists and nurses at Whiting Forensic Institute work with dangerous patients accused of murder, rape and other violent crimes…and found not guilty by reason of insanity. So shifts have to be covered according to forensic nurse Tim Murphy. “We have patients that come in from supermax, to maximum security facilities, to get them stabilized, we do a very good job and I'm proud of the work that I do there."

In fiscal 2015 overtime alone for the 120-plus state specialists, or FTS’s rose more than 20-percent from the prior year, to $4.7 million. Two members of the union representing FTS's and nurses say a hiring freeze, a high number of acute care patients, and four dozen FTS's on workers comp led to the high amounts of overtime, much of it forced, or “mandated”.

Nurse supervisor John Vallejo oversees the third, or overnight shift. “You're putting your life in your own hands. We're this close to them, it's not like at night time they go into a jail cell and the door closes. This is considered a hospital even though it's considered maximum security."

A fifth of the FTS's at Whiting doubled their base pay with OT. One even tripled it in fiscal 2015, taking home more than $243,000! About $78,000 in base and differential pay, and another $165,000 in OT. But how could he do it? Time cards obtained by the Troubleshooters indicate he worked days, weeks, and sometimes months on end, often double shifts. Both Vallejo and Murphy say it can be done, “It happens in all sectors, it happens in other institutions, public or private, people are able to forego their own personal lives and just work for the almighty dollar. I'm not one of them."

Longtime Whiting FTS Laurie Bernier has told us a different story. She says she has witnessed a number of the top FTS wage earners sleeping on the job during the third shift...creating undue risk for patients, and staff, “…it's scary and it's not the dangerous part of the job that i signed on for…most staff are good, hardworking staff, that don't like this any better than I do."

More than a half dozen other employees told us the same thing last fall. And two more came forward since then...but don't want to reveal their identities for fear of retaliation.
Bernier shared with us a report where she told investigators she complained to Vallejo about the sleeping for more than a year.
Vallejo disputes that, saying “…there's a lot of things that she says she did."

After we talked with Vallejo…Bernier told us over the phone she “...always has told the truth.” Meanwhile, a head forensic nurse on the third shift who did not want to be identified agreed to let us share a document she says she sent to Whiting management, in which she says sleeping has been a “largely ignored” issue at Whiting her whole career.

Vallejo says even though he is aware of the sleeping allegations made by this nurse, they won't be investigated unless a work rules violation form called an MHAS-20 is filled out. That's Whiting's policy. When asked how all the people who told the Troubleshooters about the sleeping were wrong, Vallejo said, “…why didn't they put pen to paper, and write it up? It's your responsibility, as a staff member there, if you see something that's done wrong, you're a mandated reporter, then report it."

Bernier says she was never told to fill out that report. But someone did. The Troubleshooters just obtained a listing of MHAS-20's filed for 2014 and 2015. Two complaints about sleeping and two for “inattentiveness” were filed against different FTS's…including that top wage earner. The union tells us John Vallejo was not made aware of that report, and the allegations against the two employees on his shift were unsubstantiated.

Whiting Interim Director John D’Eramo said about sleeping allegations last fall “I'm not aware of people sleeping on the job. Again, our primary focus is on the quality of patient care. The buildings are supervised 24/7. And if any allegation of inattentiveness, sleeping on duty, was brought to our attention we would investigate it fully."

Whiting did not grant us a new interview for this update, but says the excess overtime has already eased…by the hiring of five more nurses, and 14 FTS's. Murphy said, “Thank God, because people are getting burnt out."

The union says at least two of the MHAS-20 complaints were unsubstantiated. We are waiting for the state to give us the official documents from the investigation…and we'll keep pressing for answers.

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