State Mental Health Workers Need A Rescue with the American Rescue Plan. DHHS Workers Demand Hazard Pay and Safe Staffing

On Wednesday, April 14 state Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) workers at Central Regional Hospital hosted a workplace protest.

State mental health workers across North Carolina, having worked more than a year through the pandemic, are now demanding relief in the form of hazard premium pay. Additionally, the safety issues and persistent understaffing at DHHS facilities need to be addressed. On January 31, the Department of Health and Human Services ended hazard premium payments despite the ongoing need to provide care for COVID-19 positive patients in the hospitals and developmental centers. Over 700 DHHS workers signed petitions that have been delivered to the DHHS administration.

“We all know that the pandemic has led to an increase in mental illness”, stated Dr. Rakesh Patel, a medical doctor at Central Regional Hospital and president of the Butner-Area UE150 union chapter. Patel continued, “The way you take care of patients is by funding the workers who actually do the work to take care of them. The folks on the front lines need some help. They are chronically underpaid. We were understaffed before the pandemic. Now we are losing even more staff, which makes the safety issues worse. With this level of funding we are not going to be able to provide the quality of care that our community deserves. Funding for mental health care should reflect our priorities.”

The State of North Carolina will be receiving hundreds of millions of dollars from the American Rescue Plan. Some of this money needs to be directed towards state DHHS workers.

“Understaffing is a big problem at the hospital. Workers are getting burnt out and even hurt because we don’t have enough staff,” stated Darrion Smith, Youth Program Education Assistant, Vice President of the UE Eastern Region. Smith was injured on the job last weekend working on an understaffed children’s unit at CRH. Smith continued, “last weekend we had a crisis situation while working with bare minimum staff. This happens too often.”

In January, over 700 DHHS workers signed petitions requesting the following:

  1. Continued hazard premium payments.
  2. Install HEPA air filtration systems.
  3. Expedite the hiring process to allow new hires to fill the many vacant positions.
  4. DHHS should supply all staff with N-95 masks.
  5. End the cross-contamination due to transferring staff from COVID-19+ areas back to other areas without proper quarantine period and test results.

Additionally, workers at Central Regional Hospital are demanding a centralized staffing system to allow for more efficient and fair staff scheduling and less forced overtime.  The full text of the petition can be found here: https://bit.ly/DHHSHazard

The press is invited to interview workers from the Central Regional Hospital action last week and to learn more about their continued struggle For more information, contact Dante Strobino at 919-539-2051.

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