LARNED, Kan. — State officials overseeing mental health hospitals are in a dispute with an employee labor union over whether a hospital in west-central Kansas was staffed at minimum standards.

An email released by the Kansas Organization for State Employees said that Larned State Hospital was inadequately staffed in all units Monday, The Topeka Capital-Journal reported . The union said staffing is a continual problem for the hospital, which has had to ask workers to come in for overtime.

Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services Secretary Tim Keck said staffing didn’t fall too low, but that it was a complex issue. He said staffing levels aren’t fixed every day.

“It really fluctuates a lot based on the census and the acuity of the patients that are there, but it’s my understanding that we did not fall below a level that is safe,” Keck said.

Robert Choromanski, the union’s executive director, said the department isn’t doing enough. He said working overtime has created a negative environment and overwhelmed workers.

“I mean, how many times can you work 16-hour shifts before you’re like, ‘Hey, I have a life to live. I have a family to take care of,'” Choromanski said.

Keck said nearly 30 percent of the hospital’s jobs are vacant. Vacancy rates for nurses are between 20 and 25 percent, and the rate for mental health technicians sits between 13 and 15 percent.

Keck said his department is working to improve the culture and morale at the hospital, recruit more creatively and use employees from different sections of the hospital to put in overtime in other places where they might have experience.

Choromanski said the department isn’t doing enough because workers’ pay is too low and health insurance premiums have risen.

Data released by the union show the hospital spent nearly $1.8 million on overtime during the first six months of this year.

“When they pay extra overtime, it costs the agency even more than if they just paid people a decent amount of money,” Choromanski said.


Information from: The Topeka (Kan.) Capital-Journal, http://www.cjonline.com