Audit: Psych hospital staff overworked, under-trained

Michael Gerstein
The Detroit News

Lansing — An audit released Tuesday found that staff at a state-run psychiatric hospital in Westland are overworked, under-trained and not keeping good enough tabs on records and hundreds of missing key rings that offer access to the hospital.

A report from Auditor General Doug Ringler found the string of issues during the office’s review that ran from October 2013 through February 2017.

Among the findings, the audit noted that 52 nurses each worked more than 1,000 hours of overtime between October 2014 and September 2016.

From Sept. 25, 2016, through Dec. 3, 2016, 164 nurses worked 1,709 double shifts, according to the audit; that includes one nurse who worked 50 double shifts during that period and another who worked 43.

Michigan spent some $3 million in 2016 on overtime costs associated with the state-run Walter P. Reuther Psychiatric Hospital in Westland.

“We consider this finding to be a material condition because of the negative impact that extended work hours may have on employee fatigue, productivity or burnout,” the audit said, leveling the most serious finding that the office can make.

The audit also discovered that 470 key rings providing access to the psychiatric hospital were missing, among a host of other findings.

Less severe findings included the need to “improve controls over the electronic medical record system” to ensure that unauthorized people don’t have access to the records. Twenty-six former employees and 24 people who were active employees at the time of the audit could access the system records, although they were not authorized to do so.

Meanwhile, nearly half of the hospital’s staff hadn’t been trained on handling hazardous materials or fires and another 17 percent of staff hadn’t completed first-aid training, the audit said.

The hospital agreed to retrain staff and keep better track of its records, according to the audit. Any change to its overtime procedures would require negotiations between the Office of State Employer and AFSCME, the union that negotiates labor issues on behalf of the hospital’s workers.

“While there are findings in the audit, Walter P. Reuther Psychiatric Hospital is providing appropriate inpatient psychiatric treatment services to best meet the needs of adults with severe mental illnesses while keeping those patients safe,” said Bob Wheaton, a spokesman for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. “Patient safety and care are the top priorities at the hospital.

He added: “The department takes audit findings seriously, and has already taken numerous steps to address issues identified in the audit. These steps are outlined in the audit.”