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Walker’s Political Posturing Is Getting More Costly

Posted by Chris Liebenthal on October 30, 2010

From Milwaukee County First:

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel is reporting that, contrary to previous reports, the overtime at the Milwaukee County Mental Health Complex will soar to $4.3 million in this year alone:

Overtime costs at the Milwaukee County Mental Health Complex will rise to $4.3 million this year, contrary to an earlier forecast.

Last month, complex officials predicted overtime would drop by an unspecified amount for 2010.

Nonetheless, this year’s projected overtime bill is about $31,000 more than last year’s tally, when 10 employees more than doubled their base pay with overtime and 66 mental health employees boosted their base pay by at least 50% with overtime, according to a Journal Sentinel review of county pay records.

The higher overtime cost now expected for 2010 was likely due in part to unusual overtime costs racked up by maintenance staff at the complex, said Geri Lyday, interim behavioral health administrator. That overtime was necessary to respond to a variety of shortcomings found by state inspectors, Lyday said.

This is obviously problematic for a myriad of reasons.

But first, let’s look at the causes, which can be summed up in just three main reasons: Staffing shortage, furloughs and the predictable results from deferred maintenance.

The staffing shortage is nothing new.  The nurses have been pointing out this fact for years.  Last year, then Administrator John Chianelli reported the shortage to be about 30 nurses.  The number is probably much higher, since Walker has added an additional 47 positions into next years budget, and if he is true to nature, that number would be insufficient for what is needed.

In a supposed “cost saving” measure, Scott Walker ordered all county workers to take anywhere from eight to twenty-six furlough days.  This only serves to exasperate the staffing shortage issue, which in turns generates the higher overtime pay outs.

It is worth noting that Walker was claiming that the furloughs, taken county wide, would save $8.9 million.  Now we see that almost half of those supposed savings are being eaten up in overtime costs at the complex alone.  This doesn’t include the other departments, almost all of which has also been racking up overtime at various rates.

Walker also has a long history of shorting the maintenance work around the county, and the facility at the complex is no exception.  Combine the shortage in staff hours and funding for projects, it is not surprising that things were allowed to deteriorate.  What is surprising is how bad things have gotten.  Earlier this year, it was reported that the facility was in “shoddy condition” and that it could cost as much as  $15 million to make all the necessary repairs and maintenance work.

And now for that myriad of problems.

The most obvious one is the financial side of things.  As anyone can see, Walker’s “money saving” measures of cutting staff and furloughs are anything but.  Not only are they  not saving money, but they are actually running up the costs when one adds up the repair costs, the overtime and the fines and lawsuits that stem from the inevitable problems that the staffing shortage is causing.

However, the problems don’t end there.

When people are working that much overtime, it should be expected that they will become overly tired and/or burned out, which sets up the opportunity for mistakes and lapses to occur.  We already have seen plenty of examples of this, including the number of sexual assaults that have happened and the escape of a patient, who went on to assault a neighborhood resident in her own home, with children present.

As it has in the past, it can also lead to jumps in the number of incidents of patient-on-staff assaults.  This leads to greater absences and even more overtime, escalating the problems mentioned above.

In summary, in what could only be described as political posturing by Scott Walker, he has caused a slew of problems at the mental health complex.  These problems include a run up of overtime (which already has been extremely high for years now) as well as all sorts of legal and administrative issues for the county.  He has also put our most vulnerable citizens, the workers and the community in harm’s way needlessly.

Because of Walker’s narcissism and political aspirations, tax payers and public safety have both been grievously harmed.  That is malfeasance defined.


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