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Union urges inquiry into state-run veterans nursing home

CLARKSBURG, W.Va. -- A state-government workers' union wants Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin to investigate staff shortages at the West Virginia Veterans Nursing Home and alleged retaliation against a patient who publicly spoke about the quality of care.

UE Local 170, West Virginia Public Workers Union, represents about 25 employees at the Clarksburg veterans' home. It said Thursday it's also sent letters to legislative leaders, demanding action.

UE stands for United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers. The local represents more than 1,000 state-government employees at hospitals, the Division of Highways, the Department of Health and Human Resources and other agencies.

The union said nursing home staff members repeatedly have complained about mandatory overtime and staffing but Administrator Kevin Crickard has failed to address them.

Neither a Tomblin spokeswoman nor Crickard responded to a request for comment.

Donna Morgan, president of the local union, said employees are routinely forced to work 16-hour days, which she said is exhausting and unfair to them and also compromises patient care.

"I'm not saying anybody's being mistreated," Morgan said, "but if you have two aides taking care of 30 patients, and another patient rings a bell, you can't just drop what you're doing and answer it."

No patients have been seriously injured, but Morgan said employees worry about the possibility.

"The patient might attempt to get out of bed before someone can get there, and then they could slip and fall," she said. "These are things we want to prevent from happening."

The 120-bed home opened in 2007 and, as of last month, had a waiting list of 166 veterans. The West Virginia Department of Veterans Assistance has said lawmakers are considering the possibility of building another state-run nursing home, this one in Southern West Virginia, to meet demand.

Morgan said the union also is concerned about alleged retaliation against Vietnam veteran Stephen Newlon, who spoke to surveyors as they toured the facility and did an interview about conditions at the hospital with WBOY-TV in March.

On April 1, Newlon received a letter telling him that his health had improved and he no longer needed the home's services. He was told to leave the facility by May 6. The demand, however, relied on a doctor's evaluation from 2010, leading Newlon to believe he is being punished for his comments.


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