Audit raises concerns about overtime at King vets home

MADISON — The Wisconsin Veterans Home at King has not been able to keep additional nursing positions filled, leading to a dramatic increase in overtime and complaints from workers, according to a report released Friday by the nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau.

The audit recommends that King work on finding ways to fill all the jobs to cut down on overtime. The audit said that over a two-year period, the bureau received 47 complaints about King, most of which were staff-related, including concerns about overtime.

In 2016, on average, 685 veterans and their spouses receive care at King. The Legislature in 2013 authorized King to hire nearly 83 additional nurses to address concerns about the level of care at the facility.

Despite the authority to hire more nurses, the number of vacancies increased from 32 in June 2012 to 47 in June 2016, the audit said. That resulted in the number of overtime hours increasing to the point where the 65,100 worked in 2016 exceeded the 64,300 worked before the additional positions were authorized.

Overtime hours were at their lowest point — 36,800 — in 2013-2014, according to the report.

Veterans Affairs Secretary Dan Zimmerman said in a response letter to the Audit Bureau that the additional overtime required because of the nursing shortage "has placed an unsustainable burden on the employees as well as the department budget."

"It is my focus to eliminate all forced overtime and reduce all voluntary overtime to acceptable, affordable levels as quickly and efficiently as possible," Zimmerman said.

The Audit Bureau recommended that the Veterans department report back to lawmakers by January on progress it is making in filling nursing vacancies and reducing the amount of overtime.

The audit also found:

— Between 2012 and 2016, the Department of Health Services issued fewer citations for violations at King, on average, than at other skilled nursing facilities in the state. King received 184 citations over that time, the most severe of which resulted in a $76,900 civil penalty in 2016 in connection with substandard care it provided in the death of a 94-year-old resident.

— Based on a federal five-star rating system, the combined overall rating for King's four residence facilities exceeded those for other similar skilled nursing centers in Wisconsin.

— The federal Department of Veterans Affairs issued King 15 citations between 2012 and 2016, and five additional citations as the result of a January 2017 inspection. Two of those related to an incident in which a resident fell from his bed and was seriously injured.

The audit follows one in May that focused on finances at the veterans homes. Lawmakers called for the audits after the Capital Times newspaper published an investigation that revealed staff shortages, compromised care and a culture of retaliation at the veterans home at the same time millions of dollars was transferred from the facility to other veterans funds.

Then-Secretary John Scocos resigned in January, four months after the audits were ordered, and was replaced by Zimmerman.