Union pickets DHHR over Weston hospital conditions
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Patients and employees at William R. Sharpe Jr. Hospital in Weston went six days without lights, phone service or a working fire alarm system after the June 29 windstorm -- another sign that state officials just don't care, a Sharpe Hospital employee said Tuesday.
"It was horrific. We got a backup generator from Charleston, but it went out too. We would have lights for 30 minutes and then darkness. Staff used flashlights and lanterns," said Jamie Beaton, a health service assistant and union representative who has worked at Sharpe for more than five years.
"These problems have been going on for years, but it doesn't seem like [the state Department of Health and Human Resources] is making any progress."
Beaton joined about 15 other members of the West Virginia Public Workers Union UE Local 170 and other state hospital employees Tuesday who rallied outside DHHR's office at One Davis Square in Charleston.
Members hosted a picket in January outside Mildred Mitchell-Bateman Hospital in Huntington, but Tuesday was their first time protesting in Charleston, said John Thompson, a field organizer for the UE Local 170.
Pickets held signs that read, "Stop mandatory overtime," "End the wage freeze" and "Over-bedding + understaffing = poor patient care."
"The reason we're here today is to bring attention to the ongoing problems at state hospitals," Thompson said. "People are quitting in droves because of poor working conditions and low wages."
Sharpe Hospital and Bateman Hospital have been under court monitoring for decades. Employees have complained about poor working conditions, overcrowding and mandatory overtime.
"A lot of state hospital employees are required to work mandatory overtime or they'd be here today," Thompson said Tuesday.
Thompson referred to an August 2010 report from the Office of the Court Monitor of West Virginia's Thirteenth Judicial Circuit that noted Sharpe is overcapacity for patients, and over-bedding has been a problem for about five years. The report also noted that employees said they are not adequately trained to handle forensic patients and that employees are frustrated by a practice of mandatory overtime. None of these issues have been implemented, Thompson said.
Thompson said it's important for the public and loved ones of those staying at state hospitals to contact Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin regarding those problems.
Thompson led the group into DHHR's office building Tuesday just before noon to try to set up a meeting with a state official.
Judy Payne, secretary to DHHR communications director Marsha Dadisman, told Thompson to "send me an email with your contact information, who you'd like to come to the meeting, and your issues."
Thompson assured Payne that the group does not intend to stop until there is action from the state.
"The state thinks waiting us out, we're going to go away, and that's not the case. The state can use whatever excuses it wants, we're going to do whatever it takes to bring justice to these employees," Thompson said.
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