Staff stretched to breaking point at King Veterans Home – WI’s Largest Nursing Home

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Have you every worked 16 hours in a row? Have you done 16 hour shifts every other day or every 3rd day? Would you like to keep that up for 7 months straight? That is life as some care staff know it at King Veterans Home located about 30 miles Southeast of Stevens Point near Waupaca.

Twenty-five staff spoke-up about conditions at the King Veterans Home at a listening session for the public on July 26th at their union hall. This morning one of the staff members, Sara Goodhue, was put on a “disciplinary track” for speaking to WTDY recently about staffing and care conditions. AFSCME’s Marty Biel told me about the matter by phone this morning: “This was on her private time. … They are sending a message to the workers: we will discipline you for speaking”
“I wonder if they [other workers] are going to be singled out for speaking out on the conditions on their own time?”

At the moment the staff of King Veterans home dread filling 950 overtime shifts in this month according to a press release from AFSCME. There are around 550-600 CNAs to provide 24-hour care according to one of the workers there [an update with definitive numbers is forthcoming].

King Veteran Home’s beds have been full: 97% occupancy and on average 700 veterans since November of 2011.

Wisconsin VA Secretary John Scocos contends that AFSCME’s numbers on King are not accurate. In a recent letter to Scott Walker Scocos says “The WDVA is proud of its ability to break even at the WVH-King while still maintaining an “above average” rating of four stars out of five in Nursing Home Staffing in all four of its Skilled Nursing Facilities (SNFs) by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS).”

Job listings for a CNA at the King home show $12.844 per hour and $13.899/hr as starting wages.

Scocos also said morale is “very good”.

That is not what I hear from King staff, none of whom would go on the record for this blog post. I was able to communicate with a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) who will quit in August and a CNA who hopes to retire as a King employee in a few years. Democratic candidate for the 14th state senate, Margarete Worthington, was there to listen and she’s shared her findings with me.


Above: Location of King Veterans Home [about 30 miles S.E. of Stevens Point] WI

I spoke with a CNA I’ll call Alice last night [not her real name]. She has worked in the facility for over a decade and is a few years from retirement. She works in what’s called the Dementia or “wandering” unit” because the veterans there – called “members” by the staff – have a tendency to wander off. There she helps the members do the things that we all do independently and take for granted in our lives – clothing,feeding, cleansing, and providing physical movement whether it be from place to place or from reclined position to seated position.

She said, “For a lot of them, we’re their families. Their family is not there. We are with them every day – an extension of their family…..You develop a rapport. There are people there that were there since before I got there.”

When she spoke to me she said she was “extremely tired”. She had worked a full shift that day, had worked a double shift the previous day, and was scheduled to work a double shift the next day.

She said, “I usually know how to pick up overtime to protect myself. They keep track of my last overtime. They take the highest number for forcing somebody [the highest number referring to the number of days since a worker’s previous overtime event]. You try not to get forced. I’d say 90% of the overtime that is picked up is picked up to protect a weekend.” A “forced overtime” has been a sheet of paper delivered literally by hand to a worker 2 or 3 days ahead of the shift.

Alice says there is a new route to overtime – a second 72 hour list. “It seems we are being forced more often. One day I got a call I was being forced to do a PM shift that day and I was being forced on a Saturday as well.” The result was 2 overtime shifts in the 3 day period. Previously staff used one 30 day schedule and staff could select the overtime they would fill and then get forced shifts. The additional 2nd list allows a worker 72 hours to 6 hours notice to swap any forced overtime out.

By now I have had the overtime system explained to me by several people. It sounds like a game that is set up to make the players fail. More accurately, it sounds like a game set up to make those who stick with the union fail. In fact I have been told by 2 people that management tells CNAs they do not have a union anymore if they request that union representation be with them during a disciplinary meeting.


LTE stands for Limited Term Employee

There is a way to still work at King Veterans Home as a CNA and be completely free of forced overtime. A worker can quit and come back as an LTE or “Limited Term Employee”. I’ve heard that the LTEs also get first pick on shifts. However LTEs don’t get benefits and an LTE can not be in the union.

Alice said that becoming an LTE is the only way that people with small children can work at King adding, “How do you get a babysitter that will be available for that much overtime?” She said that most of the CNAs at King are female – typical of the profession.

After more staff become LTEs, overtime shifts go to remaining staff or to privately contracted staff that King brings on.

Margarete Worthington from Portage attended the recent staff listening session, took notes, and wrote a release for the press. Margarete Worthington is the Democratic Party candidate running for the 14th Wisconsin State Senate District seat against the incumbent, Republican Senator Luther Olsen. She said Olsen did not come to the listening session nor did any of his staff. While there she heard that 3 employees recently quit to work at a hospice. Another left to work at Kwik Trip where “it pays well” and the insurance is cheaper.

Ms. Worthington mentioned a situation that commonly causes overtime: one-on-one care. I asked her to clarify and she referred to notes from the listening session. “An employee gave the example where 6 CNAs supervise an area with 53 residents who have serious health concerns like dementia or mental illness. If an incident occurs, one of the CNAs would start working one-on-one with the resident who created the incident and the remaining 5 CNAs are left supervising 52 residents. Another CNA would be “forced” to work a double shift to cover for the CNA working in the one-on-one until someone else volunteered to work the extra one-on-one shifts. The overtime created by special one-on-one assignment continues until the situation with the resident is stabilized. The employee said the current staffing level is not high enough to keep incidents from happening and that residents and staff are getting hurt.”

From Worthington’s press release: “Employees clarified that while King staffing levels are based on resident numbers, patients with severe issues like drug and alcohol addiction, PTSD and mental health issues are being admitted, rather than first being stabilized at an appropriate treatment facility, leaving King’s staff severely overburdened. When one-on-one care is required, remaining staff to resident ratios soar, forcing double work shifts.”

According to his recent letter to Scott Walker, Scocos intentionally streamlined entry of new veterans to gain full residency and more money for King: “In July 2011, the WVH-King hired an experienced Admissions Director and processes were streamlined to expedite admissions.”

On the struggle for the CNAs to maintain their union
The CNA jobs for King are listed as “Non-Represented” meaning the union for that location is not state certified. But that does not mean there is no union.

WI Act 10 required that a majority of union members at a site vote to certify yearly and that they achieve an absolute majority. But in March of 2012 a federal court decision by William Conley reversed that and it also reversed a provision that prohibited automatic collection of dues from a worker’s paycheck.

However Wisconsin’s Dept. of Administration is still not collecting union dues through paychecks at King or anywhere else. When I confirmed this with Marty Biel this morning I also asked what the next step might be. He replied, “We have a motion in front of federal court.

The union. The future.

Troy Bauch is an AFSCME Council 24 Field Rep serving King staff. We talked by phone this morning. He told me about an hour and a half long conversation he had earlier today with Steve Janisch, a Human Resources Specialist with the WI VA. According to Bauch, Janisch said, “we no longer recognize the union” and “this is an unfortunate consequence of the current political environment”. Bauch then said to me, “They are not even supposed to express negativity toward the union. They are not supposed to express “union animus”. What Scott Walker did was whittle down what collective bargaining can be about but a union we do have.”

When I said to Troy Bauch that the union’s wages at King might not be a lot but the benefits were still better, he replied, “We’re having people quit and go to Quik Trip. How good can they be if Quik Trip has comparable for a lower premium?” He outlined the lay of the land that CNA’s see before them: about $500 paychecks biweekly, no ability right now to get a raise or better circumstances, new health insurance rates that are more expensive in January, increased pension contributions. “The longer you stay the less take home pay you’re going to get. That’s Walker’s master plan. ..In his plan workers with 25 years of seniority and 1 year of seniority make the same amount”.

“Now the tsunami is the 16 hour workday every other day”, Bauch said.

When I asked Alice if she thought things could improve for her, she replied that “it’ll get better” and cited a job fair last week where 187 people applied to King. But she then also talked about her dismay with the snail’s pace in hiring. “There are some people that were turned away [in the months previous] and they were told we are not hiring. We’ve never been full with no positions available in I can’t tell you how long. …This is why people do not have faith that they will get the help they need”.

One might take hope in a recent interview Scocos gave to WSAU.com in which he said there would be only 18 open positions by the end of the month, not 40 [as stated by AFSCME]. Bauch told me that even if Scocos were correct, there would still be 600 overtime shifts to fill up and added, “They [VA administrators] questioned me when I told them this and I said “It is true”. I have your schedules”.

Alice takes hope in a recent federal and state survey of King. “I think they were checking to see what the staffing was. … [the federal surveyors] were looking at our overtime. It’s rare that those surveys come like they did.”
She repeated the “it’ll get better” statement again, saying “I want to keep in my head that it will get better.”

Alice vowed to stay on in the union and work to rebuild it despite the obstacles. “We were here 75 years before Scott Walker. We’re going to be here another 75 years after Scott Walker”.

I asked her what was at the root of King’s staffing problems, and she responded, “I think they want us to not have enough state employees so they can privatize. They have already privatized the drivers here. To me it’s just a matter of time until they’re going to try that.”

A final note: each person who talked to me emphasized that they did not want to scare families and veterans off from going to King – they emphasized that Wisconsin’s largest nursing home is still a good place. But staffing problems at King need to be resolved quickly for the benefit of both care workers and the veterans they serve.

More Resources:

An emailed statement to me from “Ivan” (not his real name), a worker at King Veterans Home

CMS’s Health Inspection database

DISPUTE AT VETERANS HOME AT KING HEATING UP – Monday July 30, 2012 – Gilman Halsted

Nurses stressed by overtime – Waupaca Now July 25, 2012

A brief write-up I prepared on John Scocos of the VA

Wisconsin Council on Veterans Programs

WisEye video of Wisconsin Board of Veterans Affairs Meeting at King June 15

Cap Times Editorial
Address conditions at Wisconsin Veterans Home

Posts on Scocos at the blog Friends of Wisconsin Veterans

Wisconsin Council 24 site – AFSCME local representing King Veterans Home workers

Full Press Release on Scocos from Disabled American Veterans of WI
from
DAV POSITION ON THE NOMINATION OF FORMER SECRETARY JOHN SCOCOS AS THE NEW WDVA SECRETARY

Margarete Worthington for State Senate campaign web site, 14th District

Senator Luther Olsen, 14th District

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  14 comments for “Staff stretched to breaking point at King Veterans Home – WI’s Largest Nursing Home

  1. May 26, 2013 at 12:43 am

    adding this comment here for K.: “Many of us at King believe this is the governor’s personal weapon/vendetta. He stated his intention, last spring during the protests in Madison,to privatize the Wisconsin Veterans’ Home in a televised speech. By requiring outrageous overtime, cutting 100% positions to 50%, hiring more LTE’s, he may yet succeed. Further, I have had experience in other state facilities; and this one is the only one which has not attempted to work out an every other weekend schedule, who continues to force people in on their days and weekend off – even when that is their only weekend off that month.
    There are many good things about King, the primary ones being the members and the floor staff. This includes the nurses, aides, custodians, food service, and facility services, and unit clerks. There are many other people working there who are very dedicated, yet none will see wage increases, and all will be paying even more into their retirement, more on their health insurances, and may even be seeing a pay cut of up to 30%. For those who believe we don’t have real world jobs – you know what? You may be right! It is now a nightmare! And most of us care deeply about the people we care for. We care about the kind of job we are doing. And every thing that is happening to us is going to overflow into the private sector. Thanks for the opportunity to speak up.”

  2. Former Nursing Assistant
    March 4, 2013 at 11:11 am

    I worked at King for several years and have this advice for anyone considering employment there as a CNA. Don’t. The overtime is unbearable. The politics are worse than that. The nepotism is ridiculous. A side note: Everyone turned a blind eye to the illegal cigarette sales going on at the on campus member bar that sells NA beer to members. The members were getting ripped off by the bartender who sold individual cigarettes to them as a little side business of his own. This is old information, but I doubt it has been discontinued.

  3. scott
    December 4, 2012 at 3:17 pm

    This article is an exaggeration. My wife has been a CNA for more than 5 years at King. She has a hard time getting overtime. She only gets forced for an extra shift once or maybe twice per month. They allow you to split a forced shift with another employee from another shift, so she very rarely has to work 16 hour shifts. By the way, you should proof read your blog before publishing it on the internet. Your first sentence showed me that this is not a credible blog.

    • December 6, 2012 at 4:28 pm

      The 1st few words of the post are questions meant to draw you into the life of a CNA. How would you have written the 1st question? As for your wife’s overtime: Is your wife a CNA in the union, a CNA who is an LTE, an RN, or a worker brought in on a contract? I’d welcome her to comment here directly with more details.

  4. anon e must
    October 10, 2012 at 2:26 am

    It looks like this kind of thing is happening at most state run Veterans Homes. It’s getting worse by the day and if you don’t like it “then you can quit” They hope people quit, they try to break unions and management’s job is to keep on sending those memos and making new rules hoping the rules are broken so they can fire the workers and if that doesn’t work, keep on the pressure so hopefully staff quit. They do not care one bit for the workers or the Veterans and it’s not about saving money, it is about breaking unions by breaking the spirits of staff. The Veterans care or should I say lack of care due to staff shortages are not factored into the equation. There has to be an end to this, but when and who are going to be the people who stop this evil? I pray that justice is served and the evil stops. It’s not just staffing, it is much much more but you’ll have to ask the governors, management and union busting people what those tactics are because staff is just too tired and scared to talk about it. I pray for all of us, those who care enough to CARE and I pray the evil is stopped, very soon. I hear some rich people are justifying treating others badly that are not as wealthy, saying those that are not wealthy deserve to be treated badly because the reason they are not wealthy is because they must have not worked hard enough.. I know what is says in the Bible about the love of money and people that are wealthy and the odds of them getting through the pearly gates. It’s some kind of new cult like practice, this justification of doing evil against workers and those that cannot fend for themselves such as the Veterans in nursing homes, but wrong is still wrong and our Veterans deserve better and so do the workers. These people with money that are backing elections of people who do what they want must be stopped by people in power who care and who can make a change. Things need changed like the privatizing of Veterans Homes. There will be a judgement one day for each of us when we stand before the Lord, but what about now, who with enough power is going to be brave enough to stop this evil now, on this earth while the suffering is happening?

  5. Rachael
    September 14, 2012 at 4:25 am

    I CANNOT believe how familiar this sounds! I work at a veterans home in another state and we are about to be shut down. We get mandated minutes before the end of our shifts and even with the forced volunteering, we are still working short. Yet the administration actually has the nerve to tell us we are overstaffed. We are close and it’s as if nobody in administration cares!!! Wow. Is the US government trying to do away with Veterans Homes without having to come out and admit it to the people?

  6. Former Steward
    August 6, 2012 at 4:23 am

    Of course management is trying to force workers to quit or become LTEs!

    Next, watch Walker and the GOP raise the state employee contributions for retirement so high that people will “voluntarily” opt out of the Wisconsin Retirement System (after the GOP magnanimously gives them this “choice.”).

  7. Kim
    August 5, 2012 at 3:03 am

    I would like to say I am an LPN, currently working in home health in Tennessee. I left King just over a month ago and as much as I enjoyed working and caring for our veterans, I DO NOT miss working outragious hours, never being able to plan anything with my family or just having a life that did not revolvearound King. I left King to find a more secure job, I was a 50% employee (not by choice) able to work 100%. Well as a single mom I could not depend on this. I would have months of overtime to months of 20 hours a week, volunteering for any shift I could. Then to have insurance premiums and retirement fees raise, really how do you support your family like this. I applied numerous times for a full time position but always passed by others with more senority (no matter what their job ethics were). I was asked to write a letter when I left but my reasons were for more then just the overtime. However, I will back every direct care staff at King, they work their asses off to give our veterans the best care possible and get nothing in return but forced to work more. King provides top quality care but they are running the staff to early graves from the stress. The staff always put the veterans first and care for them with love and pride.
    Dont forget that it has been years since any King employee has even got a raise but Walker just keeps taking more away:'(
    Walker needs to go work a week in any direct care staff at King and maybe he could learn what he is doing to his fellow ‘Wisconsinites’

    • August 5, 2012 at 3:13 am

      Thank you for your service to King Veterans and thanks for leaving your remarks. What led you to decide on a move to Tennessee?

      • Broccoli
        August 5, 2012 at 1:22 pm

        Kim raises an interesting point that I haven’t seen addressed elsewhere. King has many 50% employees, many of whom would like a full schedule. But they don’t get first crack at the empty shifts. These shifts are either claimed (in order of seniority) by full-timers who want the extra money, or “forced” on full-timers (as mentioned in the article) who DON’T want them. All of this is on golden overtime pay, whereas if the 50% employees had first crack at these shifts, they would be able to work 40 hours, the full-timers would not have as much overtime, and the state would be paying straight time instead of overtime for the same work. Win-win-win. But the status quo of scheduling prevents this.

        My (full-time) spouse would have loved to offload some of the overtime to these 50% employees who need the money, but there’s no system in place to easily connect people who want extra shifts with people who don’t. So instead my spouse was forced to work hellacious overtime that we didn’t want, while single parents like Kim struggle to make ends meet.

        In any case, this question is all moot for my family, as my caregiver spouse also no longer works there. Another excellent employee lost to idiotic policies.

        • August 5, 2012 at 2:46 pm

          I was told that LTE’s get first dibs on shifts. Is that accurate? The other thing that I wonder when people say that the forced overtime does not make economic sense for the institution: What are the hidden motives- is the administration trying to make life hard enough for certain people that they are forced to quit? Is the administration trying to make sure that certain people never get benefits because they have kids? In the original 30 day schedule, the reason 1 person might get overtime is the # of days since their last overtime. But adding that 2nd list – maybe that lets the admin. put the screws to certain people they don’t like for whatever reason.

          • Broccoli
            August 7, 2012 at 3:10 am

            Spouse doesn’t know much about LTEs. Only that there are, as has been reported, quite a few 50% employees who are not getting the extra hours that they would like. Hidden motives are probably as you suspect — plus, as several people have guessed, a drive to privatization.

  8. Bea
    August 3, 2012 at 12:53 pm

    Thank you for this informative piece.
    Once again, shame on Scott Walker, who uses our veterans as a human shield at public events and pulls sh#t like this.

  9. ctuttle
    August 2, 2012 at 11:01 pm

    Could Scott Walker be using John Scocos and the Department of Health Services to set up our Veteran’s Home for failure? DHS oversees nursing homes in Wisconsin. They recently had investigators at King, and they gave the Home a “substandard care” rap. Scott is pulling Scocus strings to deny them the needed aid to do their job properly.
    Classic Scott Walker maneuver!
    If DHS can somehow make the case that King is failing as it now operates, then their solution will undoubtedly include privatization measures, getting rid of union involvement.

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