Excessive overtime in hospital facilities has been a topic of controversy for decades, one that often leads to wage and hour litigation. In fact, we wrote about one such dispute last week, in an article on the thousands of overtime complaints filed against three California hospitals owned by Tenet Healthcare. A more recent lawsuit, however, throws light on another facet of this important issue: the effect that understaffing has on patients.
Hospital Patient Sues Over Excessive Overtime
Years of public health research have found that forcing nurses to work excessive hours can have disastrous consequences for the patients in their charge. Alan Teasel, an involuntary patient at the Caro Center, a psychiatric hospital operated by the State of Michigan, hopes to expose this problem in a new class action lawsuit. Teasel has chosen to take on the State of Michigan, along with its Department of Health and Human Services, for allowing the Caro Center to “abuse” its mandatory overtime policies.
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Hospital records show that some employees at the Caro Center have been made to work 17-hour shifts at a time.
Excessive overtime hours, Teasel’s attorney writes in the complaint, are threatening the health and safety of both patients and employees at the Caro Center. Chronically overworked, residential care aides at the facility are unable to provide appropriate patient care, the lawsuit says. The Caro Center has been entrusted with caring for “individuals who are mentally ill, have been found not guilty by reason of insanity or have been deemed incompetent to stand trial,” the Huron Daily Tribune reports. These vulnerable patients, Teasel’s attorney says, have been all but abandoned by Michigan’s legislature.
Overtime Fuels Danger In Hospital, Patient Says
According to Teasel, who filed his class action lawsuit in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, residential care aides at the Caro Center are chronically short-handed, leading to serious lapses in patient care. Likewise, the conditions at Caro have become untenably dangerous, the complaint says. Teasel claims that excessive overtime mandates are at the root of the Center’s recent problems, including:
“riots, patient-on-patient and patient-on-staff assaults, suicides and attempts at suicide, self-maiming and attempts at self-maiming, intoxication from excessive ingestion of water, and attempts at escape and actual escapes from the premises.
Over-medication incidents have skyrocketed, the lawsuit claims, while interactions between patients and their caregivers have fallen to an all-time low. Nurses are getting hurt. An investigation by the State’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration concluded that “deteriorating conditions at the Caro Center [had] resulted in patients inflicting […] injuries on staff,” including a “detached retina,” “ruptured discs” and “fractured skull.”
Health Workers Protest Mandatory Overtime Policy
Obviously, this problem has not gone unnoticed by the psychiatric hospital’s employees. In fact, workers at the hospital have already staged a series of protests, even forming picket lines outside the facility to inform the public of the Center’s “inappropriate” use of mandatory overtime.
In 2015, the workers told reporters at MichiganLive that their employer, the State of Michigan, was forcing them to work dangerous amounts of overtime in unsafe working conditions. Holding signs that read, “Safety Is Jeopardized By Mandates,” between 40 to 50 state employees took to the streets. Former Caro Center employee Dave Holzworth said the state had begun mandating double shifts in 2013, as it struggled to deal with a staffing shortage. Nearly two years later, the situation hadn’t improved. It had worsened, Holzworth attested: “it’s to the point that 75 to 80 percent of the days you work you will be asked to work a double.”
Signs of hope, however, have emerged. Michigan’s newest budget, proposed by Governor Rick Snyder in February, allocates $7.2 million to hire 72 new staff members for the State’s psychiatric hospitals. Money would also be set aside to construct a new facility to replace the Caro Center, which was built in 1913.