In an important victory for the direct care employees and the patients at the state's two psychiatric hospitals, the West Virginia Supreme Court has upheld the new pay plan for direct care employees at those two facilities, which was implemented on January 1. The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR) had appealed the new pay plan shortly after it presented its pay plan in August 2014.

Writing the majority's opinion, Supreme Court Justice Allen Loughry blasted DHHR. "It is both inexcusable and disheartening for the DHHR to be before this Court on some of the same issues that were identified more than thirty years ago - issues that continue to adversely impact the very vulnerable patient population committed to our state mental health hospitals..." You can read the court's entire decision here.

The Bureau for Behavioral Health and Health Facilities (BHHF), a bureau of DHHR, was forced to raise the base wage rates of direct care employees at its two psychiatric hospitals - Mildred-Mitchell Bateman Hospital in Huntington and William R. Sharpe, Jr. Hospital in Weston - by $3 million on January 1 as the result of a settlement agreement with Mountain State Justice (MSJ), the Charleston-based, public-interest law firm which represents the hospitals' patients in the so-called Hartley case. UE Local 170 has been working closely with MSJ over the past four years to address ongoing staffing problems at the two hospitals. 

Kanawha County Circuit Court Judge Duke Bloom had threatened BHHF with contempt of court if it did not develop a plan to address the ongoing staffing problems at the two hospitals. BHHF had agreed to a settlement agreement in 2009 to address the staffing problems by raising the wages of direct care staff, ending mandatory overtime except in cases of emergencies, and ending the use of temporary or contract employees, but never completely followed through with the agreement. UE Local 170 reached out to MSJ in 2010 to inform them that BHHF had not fully implemented the 2009 agreement.

Under its plan, BHHF had the WV Division of Personnel conduct a market study of the wage rates of direct care employees at other hospitals in the geographic areas around the two psychiatric hospitals. Based on the DOP's market study, BHHF developed new base wage rates for direct care employees. If employees base wages were below the new rates, the employees' wages were raised up to the new rates effective January 1. In addition, any direct care employee who was in their current position for at least three years, received an additional three percent pay increase, and will receive an additional three percent increase every three years thereafter. Every year, BHHF will have the DOP conduct a market study to see if it needs to increase direct care employees' base wage rates.

In the coming months, UE Local 170 will be working with MSJ to ensure that BHHF carries out the court's orders, including paying back pay to any direct care employee hired after January 1, 2013 who did not receive the pay raises ordered in 2013.

UE Local 170 is also calling on Governor Tomblin to work with the union to improve the wages and working conditions at all of the state's hospitals and nursing homes.