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More than 100 state health workers are doubling their salaries with overtime

State auditor urges overtime caps to prevent pay abuses and 'health and safety' issues in the Mental Health and Developmental Services departments, where some employees work more than 90 hours a week.

October 21, 2009|Patrick McGreevy

SACRAMENTO — The state auditor Tuesday identified more than 100 nurses and psychiatric workers on the state payroll who have at least doubled their salaries with overtime, working as many as 90 hours a week.

One nurse at Napa State Hospital made $733,000 in overtime in the last five years -- 66% of his total earnings -- by logging 51 extra hours each week during that period, according to the report by State Auditor Elaine Howle.

She called for caps on overtime and other changes to prevent abuses and problems.

"Individuals working excessive amounts of overtime may compromise their own and patients' or consumers' health and safety," Howle said in a letter to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and state lawmakers.

Her report identified 140 employees in various state agencies who were paid overtime equal to or exceeding their normal salary, including 80 in the Department of Mental Health, which includes the Napa hospital, and 23 at the Department of Developmental Services, which provides services to the disabled.

The audit said $2.1 billion in overtime was paid during the last five years by state agencies, excluding the prison system, which has previously been identified as a big user of overtime.

Union contracts that do not cap overtime or spread it out among employees, as well as fluctuation in the number of patients at mental health facilities that require one-on-one staffing, are partly to blame for the large amounts of overtime, Howle said.

Nineteen nurses and safety workers at Napa State Hospital averaged $78,000 in regular pay and $99,000 in overtime compensation. Twenty-seven psychiatric technician assistants at Sonoma Developmental Center averaged $33,000 in regular pay and $41,000 in overtime. The audit said 10 workers at each facility averaged 36 hours of overtime per week in one year, "which creates a health and safety issue."

The Department of Mental Health is operating under a court-approved consent decree that beefs up staffing requirements, agency Director Stephen W. Mayberg said in a written response to the audit.

The agency has taken steps to better manage staffing and "will raise the issue of having staff with the least amount of overtime to receive preference over the employees who have worked significant amounts of overtime," the response said.

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patrick.mcgreevy@latimes.com

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