Mental health nurses: Mandatory overtime a problem, nothing being done about it

MILWAUKEE (WITI) -- Sounding the alarm about a staffing crisis. A dozen nurses and staff members with the Milwaukee County Behavioral Health Complex are speaking out -- and on Wednesday, May 21st, they took their message to the steps of the Milwaukee County Courthouse.

The group of nurses not only voiced their grievances outside the Courthouse -- but they also went inside, to Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele's office, where they were not turned away.

The group represents many of the nurses and staff at the Milwaukee County Behavioral Health Complex.

They say being forced to work a second eight-hour shift after they finish their scheduled shift puts them and their patients at risk.

They met with County Executive Abele in April about their concerns, but they say they haven't seen any action.

So, on Wednesday, they marched a ten-point list of corrective actions to Abele's office.

To their surprise, they were not turned away -- even though Abele wasn't in his office.

Community Relations Director Rayna Andrews sat with them and listened to their concerns.

Hector Colon, the Milwaukee County Health and Human Services Director says their demand for more nurses and nursing assistants is being addressed.

"We have a combination of 40 individuals that consist of RNs and CNAs that are currently being hired," Colon said.

RN Joel Garny says with the patients brought to the facility -- nurses need to be alert and mandatory overtime hampers that.

"Some of them have recently been in jails, long-term facilities. We get people who are coming in that are depressed, chronic schizophrenics. We get a mixture of clients -- so we do have potentially, very violent people who come in the door," Garny said.

Colon says he agrees that the mandatory overtime is a problem.

"It`s not ideal and we`re trying to minimize that to the extent that`s possible through our recruitment efforts. Again -- hiring through our own HR Department, hiring through a staffing company, reducing our census to the extent we can do that in order to insure there is adequate staffing levels," Colon said.

The group left Abele's office with the assurance that Abele will get their petition with its ten-point list of corrective actions.