Thursday, December 30, 2010

Missouri Mental Health workers clock enough overtime to drive themselves crazy

Posted by on Thu, Dec 30, 2010 at 12:30 PM

click to enlarge A Missouri Department of Mental Health worker takes a short break before returning to her 16-hour shift.
  • A Missouri Department of Mental Health worker takes a short break before returning to her 16-hour shift.

The Missouri Department of Mental Health has likely wasted millions of dollars and jeopardized patient care by allowing workers to clock thousands of hours of overtime in recent years, according to a report released this morning by the Missouri State Auditor's office.

The practice has been especially lucrative for certain employees, who in some cases have made more in overtime than their regular salary by working as much as 60 hours of overtime per week.



According to the report, the state mental health department -- which provides 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week care to patients around the state -- spent almost $50 million in overtime over the three years that ended in June, most of it paid out at time-and-a-half.

And because the department allowed employees to volunteer for overtime -- rather than distribute it evenly or just hire more employees to cover the work -- some employees milked the system, taking as many hours as they could. According to the report, in 2009 alone more than 40 employees made more in overtime than they did in regular pay.

One employee worked 6,075 hours of overtime during 2008 and 2009 -- almost 60 hours per week. That employee made almost $100,000 in that time, which was more than twice what he would have earned without overtime. He basically refused to go home, working a second part-time job at the facility, volunteering for second shifts and working on his days off -- none of which affected the quality of his work, I'm sure.

Other employees did the same thing, basically squeezing every hour out of the department that they could. In October 2009, one employee worked all but two days in a month -- despite being reprimanded two years earlier for -- wait for it -- sleeping on the job. He made $60,000 of overtime in two years. In November of that year, another employee worked 14 hours every day of the month but three. Think any pillboxes got mixed up during that time?

The auditor's office points out that it would have been safer -- and probably way cheaper -- to simply hire and train more employees. But the staff gift exchange wouldn't have been nearly as fun.

Download the audit report here.

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