California

California prisons, hospitals depend on mandatory overtime. New contract asks for relief

The California Health Care Facility, a prison hospital in south Stockton, houses about 2,600 inmates. Photographed Thursday, May 2, 2019. A patient at the prison died from Legionnaires’ disease in 2018, and the inmates at the facility and two nearby youth correctional centers remain on bottled water while the water system is treated.
The California Health Care Facility, a prison hospital in south Stockton, houses about 2,600 inmates. Photographed Thursday, May 2, 2019. A patient at the prison died from Legionnaires’ disease in 2018, and the inmates at the facility and two nearby youth correctional centers remain on bottled water while the water system is treated. hamezcua@sacbee.com

California state government remains dependent on mandatory overtime to staff hospitals and prisons even as evidence shows the long shifts aren’t good for nurses or their patients, according to a new Legislative Analyst’s Office report.

A new contract agreement between Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration and SEIU Local 1000 begins to reduce mandatory overtime but leaves the state facing the difficult problem of properly staffing facilities without the tool, according to the report.

The Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, Department of Veterans Affairs and Department of State Hospitals rely on mandatory overtime to meet staffing needs that can fluctuate widely, the report states.

The report includes statistics that underscore the fluctuating needs.

California Health Care Facility, a Stockton correctional facility that provides treatment for some of the state’s sickest inmates, used about 32,000 hours of mandatory overtime in the last fiscal year, up about 12,000 hours the year before.

Meanwhile, California Medical Facility, a Vacaville facility for men, used 5,600 hours of mandatory overtime last year, down from 16,400 the year before.

Patton State Hospital used 10,600 hours of overtime last year, up from 3,900 the year before; while Metropolitan State Hospital in Los Angeles County reduced mandatory overtime to 134 hours from 619.

“It appears to be something that may vary significantly depending on specific conditions at a particular facility at a particular time,” the report states.

Nurses at state hospitals and correctional facilities sometimes find out just before the end of a shift that they will be required to work eight hours of overtime, according to the report.

The long shifts increase nurses’ risks of being injured on the job or while driving home tired, and they increase patients’ risk of receiving an improper dose of medicine or being harmed by other lapses in care, according to a 2016 Little Hoover Commission report cited by the analyst’s office.

The report cited studies that found nurses were three times as likely to make an error when working more than 12 hours and that their health suffered with longer shifts, including increased risks of heart disease and hypertension and increases in the time it takes to become pregnant.

The 2016 report recommended the state find ways to reduce all overtime at hospitals, both mandatory and voluntary. Mandatory overtime has been banned in the private sector since 2001, according to the report.

The administration and the union agreed in 2016 that the practice should be reduced, but the state continues to depend on it, according to the LAO report.

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Wes Venteicher anchors The Bee’s popular State Worker coverage in the newspaper’s Capitol Bureau. He covers taxes, pensions, unions, state spending and California government. A Montana native, he reported on health care and politics in Chicago and Pittsburgh before joining The Bee in 2018.
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