Charleston Daily Mail, Charleston, WV - Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Kanawha County Circuit Judge Duke Bloom rejected a last minute motion in early December from the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR) which sought to avoid giving pay raises to direct care employees at the state's two psychiatric hospitals. Judge Bloom instead threatened to hold DHHR in contempt of court and fine the department $50 per employee per day if the employees didn't receive their pay raises beginning January 1, 2013.

At a hearing in mid-October, Judge Bloom had ordered DHHR to comply with a 2009 court order which gave direct care employees at Mildred-Mitchell Bateman Hospital in Huntington and William R. Sharpe, Jr. Hospital in Weston over $500,000 in pay raises. But instead of working to make the raises happen after three years of delay, DHHR sought to again delay the pay raises, citing logistical issues.

The October hearing was meant to update Judge Bloom on the so-called Hartley Case, a 1981 case that remains open and centers on the treatment of mental health patients in the state. The intent of giving the pay raises was to be able to retain and attract direct care employees at the two psychiatric hospitals, which have been historically plagued by understaffing due to high employee turnover and unfilled vacancies.

Since it did not have standing in the Hartley Case, UE Local 170 reached out to Mountain State Justice, which represented the original litigants in the case, over the past year to bring attention to the fact that DHHR had not complied with the 2009 court order. Mountain State Justice then went to court in October to force DHHR to comply with the court order.

Last month, at a Meeting of the Parties who are involved in the Hartley Case, Victoria Jones, Acting Commissioner of the Bureau for Behavioral Health and Health Facilities, reported that "all pay raises are in effect as required by the court order and that there was not any anticipation of sanctions being imposed." Jones attributed the speed of the implementation was "due to mandatory staff overtime including holidays."

UE Local 170 will be montitoring DHHR's implementation of the court order to ensure that every direct care employee got the full pay raise that they were suppose to receive. You can read the Charleston Daily Mail's coverage of this news story here