The governor’s $152.3 billion budget proposal does nothing to alleviate persistent understaffing and overtime for those who care for the state’s most vulnerable people.
The budget aims to cut through attrition more than 250 full-time positions in the state Office for People With Developmental Disabilities. While many of the cuts stem from the upcoming closure of Bernard Fineson Developmental Center in Queens, the budget fails to address ongoing — and urgent — needs in OPWDD facilities.
Workers say the overtime — and time away from their homes and families — is becoming the norm and wearing on them. In this edition, we feature just a few of the many stories about how OPWDD workers are struggling to provide quality services, while urging state legislators to give them a chance to go home to their families.
“The long hours and short staffing is promoting high stress among employees and placing them at higher risk for making mistakes. Everyone would very much like to go home at the end of the workday, but that is not happening here. Presently, the way we are delivering services is unsustainable. Something has to give.”
— Robert Lockett, group home supervisor and
Finger Lakes DDSO Local member, Monroe County
Being forced to choose between their work and their families
NORWICH — Workers at the Valley Ridge Center for Intensive Treatment, a secure care facility operated by the state Office for People With Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD), are frustrated over constantly working overtime due to inadequate staffing and are crying out for help.
Workers note that they are tormented, forced to choose between properly caring for the people under their watch, and spending time with their families. CSEA is sharing our members’ stories in an effort to educate state officials about the abuses they struggle with on a daily basis.
— Mark M. Kotzin
“Not only do I work at Valley Ridge in a paraprofessional/clerical title, but my husband works as direct support staff there. I would characterize the amount of overtime at the facility as ‘horrendous.’
Staff are working so much overtime that their health is suffering, family relationships are suffering and staff are driving tired and stressed. It’s about time that staff be considered ‘people first,’ so that we can have a happy home life as well as a happy work life.
We have the most dedicated and caring staff I know, and with additional staff to alleviate the horrendous amount of overtime, we can continue to provide the best care to the individuals we serve.”
— Lori Munio, Agency Program Aide
“Many of us have to work overtime 32-40 hours over our regular hours per week. The work we do is very demanding and stressful, along with being physical at times. The hours we work don’t provide for a safe or therapeutic environment for the people we serve either. I am exhausted every day and it affects my well-being physically and emotionally, not to mention adding strain to my marriage and my body. I’m not the kind of person to shy away or walk away from my responsibilities and realize that, at times, my job should require overtime. However, that amount should not be detrimental to me, my health, my family or the individuals we serve.
You have to take care of your employees in order for them to properly care for the people we serve. We are human beings. No person deserves to be used and abused as much as the workers here at Valley Ridge have been. It is debilitating to the services we provide to our individuals and to the people who provide that care, along with their families.”
— Joanne Crossman, Developmental Disabilities Secure Care Treatment Aide
“Employees and families have been dealing with overtime for years. When half the staff on schedule are working overtime, this should show something is wrong, and to think people volunteer excessively by choice is a joke. Overtime should be the exception, not the norm.
If the families of the individuals became aware of the condition of the staff caring for their loved ones, they would be outraged. How are the individuals being provided proper care when the staff can barely stay awake to care for them? This is an accident waiting to happen.
Being forced to work a 16-hour shift does no good to someone’s physical and mental health, as well as causing strain on their home life. No one should be forced to work these kind of hours just to keep their jobs.”
— Sharon Valentine, girlfriend of Developmental
Disabilities Secure Care Treatment Aide Christopher Snow
“Most times, I [must work overtime]my first day back after pass days, which is very discouraging because I have to spend my time sleeping instead of quality time with my family, because I know I will have to work 16 hours and this causes my wife and me unnecessary stress. I, for one, am tired and my health is beginning to suffer. Hopefully, soon someone will care enough to get us more staff to alleviate vacancies and this tremendous amount of overtime.”
— Brian Munio, Developmental Disabilities Secure Care Treatment Aide
“Working excessive overtime has negatively impacted several areas of my life. I have missed many family functions, including my husband’s birthday, because I’ve had to work another shift. It is common to have to work overtime three to five days in a row, so missing family gatherings has become all too frequent for me.
I like to be thought of as a valued employee, but this concept deteriorates with the abundance of overtime I have to do. The quality of my performance at work decreases when I am tired. I maintain a therapeutic environment for the individuals receiving services, but struggle to go ‘above and beyond’ the weeks I have to work four to five doubles, which is quite frequent as of late.
My loved ones also suffer the effects when I work excessive amounts of overtime. How do you explain to a four-year-old granddaughter why work is more important than her? When she puts her forehead on yours and asks ‘Why do you have to go to work, how about staying here with me?’
I just want to be able to be home with my family.”
— Lisa Ogborn, Developmental Disabilities Secure Care Treatment Aide
‘It wears you out’
HAWTHORNE — Ed Ayree doesn’t mind hard work.
For years, he’s balanced his job as a direct support assistant (DSA) at a state Office for People With Developmental Disabilities group home, a second gig at a local hospital and family life as a proud father.
But while continued hard work should help a person get ahead, his state job caring for individuals with developmental disabilities has been so wrought with overtime that he’s actually falling behind.
When Ayree finds out he must work overtime, he generally isn’t notified until near the end of his shift. That instability means Ayree’s kids have missed doctor’s and dentist’s appointments at the last minute, he’s put plans to go back to school on indefinite hold and his health has suffered from cumulative stress and fatigue.
“There was one time when my kids were at camp and I had to pick them up,” Ayree said. “Nobody told me I was going to have to work overtime. I had the camp calling me saying the place was shutting down for the day and I needed to get my kids, but I had no way of leaving work. We aren’t all fortunate enough to have family nearby to help. When something happens like that, you are helpless.”
Holding two jobs to make ends meet, Ayree is also forced to worry about trouble at his second job as a result of his first.
“They expect me there just like they expect me here,” he said. “I get overtime here and when it happens with no notice, it affects my performance there.”
A veteran OPWDD worker, Ayree said he’s seen overtime increase as fewer vacancies are filled. Workers’ widespread fatigue leaves Ayree and his co-workers concerned about the impact on the individuals in their care.
“There are safety aspects to consider,” he said. “We’re driving the individuals and handling medications.”
Ayree said he considers himself a team player, but years of working around-the-clock with no relief in sight is taking its toll.
“It wears you out, both mentally and physically,” he said.
— Jessica Ladlee