With 6 relatives working at state hospital, official testifies - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

With 6 relatives working at state hospital, official gives tearful testimony

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) -

The second highest ranking registered nurse at the troubled Hawaii State Hospital was frustrated to tears Wednesday as she described unsuccessful efforts to curb overtime and sick leave abuse.  But employees she and other managers are responsible for mismanagement and favoritism that have worsened problems at the state's only public mental hospital.

Emma Evans, the associate chief nurse at the hospital, said some employees routinely call in sick for the day shift, but then show up for the night shift the same day to earn overtime. 

Or she said they often call in sick for several days in a row and then work a 16-hour overtime shift on their regularly-scheduled day off.

"It sounds to me like the employees are gaming the system," said State Sen. Clayton Hee, who is co-chairing a special state Senate committee investigating problems at the hospital that were first exposed by Hawaii News Now investigations late last year.

Records show that Manuel Balantac, a psychiatric technician at the state hospital, had more than 1,600 hours of overtime last year.  That means in 2013 he earned about $48,000 in overtime, Hee said, on top of his base salary that ranges from $37,320 to $43,224 a year. 

Balantac's overtime amount is higher than some fellow psychiatric technicians' entire paycheck for the year, employees said. 

"It's so demoralizing for us that work so hard to try to maintain the standards that we had gained to maintain the accreditation that the hospital has gained," Evans told senators, her voice choked with emotion. 

Evans explained that employees successfully filed union grievances against managers when they have tried to limit overtime, worried employees will be in danger working several days in a row of 16-hour shifts. 

"When somebody grieves and they win its so disheartening for us because our clinical judgment are not considered.  They just consider that it's just their right as a bargaining unit member," Evans said. 

But hospital employees said Evans is responsible for favoring certain employees and giving them huge amounts of overtime, while others are unfairly left out, something she denies. 

"There's a perception that we have favorites in nursing office.  But we do not have favorites in nursing office," Evans said. 

"I'm concerned that maybe some disparities in overtime might be contributing to morale problems," said state Sen. Josh Green, the co-chair of the Senate special investigative committee looking into problems at the hospital. 

The hospital last summer began to institute what it calls a "wellness cap" of 350 hours of overtime for each employee, and the state is negotiating overtime and sick leave reforms with unions, state health officials said. 

Records show the same three psychiatric technicians got the highest amounts of overtime at the hospital in fiscal year 2013 and so far in this fiscal year, which ends June 30. 

Balantac earned 1,054 hours of overtime pay as of Jan. 31 in the 2014 fiscal year, making him the top earner of OT hours both last year and this year so far. 

Psychiatric technician Elma Pascual, who was the third-highest recipient of OT hours at the hospital in 2013 with 1,155 hours, and in 2014, she is the second-highest recipient of OT with 751 hours so far this year.  

Psychiatric technician Roderick Casino had the second highest amount of overtime last year with 1,410 hours, earning $40,978 in overtime alone, Hee said. Casino has the fourth highest tally of OT hours so far this year, with 678 hours. 

Evans claimed they don't get preferential treatment, but volunteer for overtime in any unit at the hospital on any shift, so rack up a lot of overtime hours. 

State hospital employees said "favorite" employees are rewarded with extra overtime, while others who should be given overtime based on seniority or other protocols are routinely denied OT. 

Evans has six relatives working at the hospital.  Her two sisters are para- medical assistant and a psychiatric technician.  Her daughter is a para-medical assistant and three sisters in law are para-medical assistants and a dietary aide. 

Evans, who has worked at the hospital for nearly 30 years, admitted she told supervisors who oversaw their job interview panels that they were her family members but denied she unduly influenced their hiring. 

"I didn't influence anybody for their recommendation.  So the panel are independent of their decision who they recommend regardless of who they know at the hospital," Evans told senators. 

Evans said her daughter applied for a state job at the hospital but was bypassed for someone else after the interview process and then got a job at the hospital through an agency. 

Employees said an agency worker with ten years experience was let go so Evans' daughter, who had no experience working with the violent mentally ill, could get the agency job. 

Lynn Fallin, deputy director for behavioral health at the state Health Department said there are a lot of people related at the state hospital, but she claims nepotism is not a problem there. 

"When you're talking about nepotism, you're really talking about favoritism.  And there's a difference between hiring relatives and favoritism and I think folks need to be really clear about that distinction," Fallin said. 

Employees complain that relatives of supervisors, managers and other employees are routinely given the job interview questions in advance, giving them an unfair advantage over other applicants.

For the first time in six years, senators have used their subpoena power and convened a special investigation into problems at the hospital.

They expect to hold several more hearings over the coming months.



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