Workers at the opioid addiction treatment and mental health facility call for staffing, training, safety improvements
Kingston, PA – Registered nurses and mental health technicians at First Hospital of Wyoming Valley were joined by other local healthcare workers and supporters outside the hospital on Wednesday, demanding improvements to better tackle the mental health crisis in the region.
“This isn’t the kind of job that you can take people right off the street, train them for just a couple of days, and then expect them to be able to handle the challenges we face,” said Sarah Panattieri-Cipriano, an RN at the hospital with 20 years experience in the mental health and drug addiction field. “Recently there was an incident with one patient that sent three workers to the ER. There are real dangers in this work.”
Located in Luzerne County, a region facing one of the worst opioid addiction crises in the nation, privately-owned, for-profit First Hospital provides addiction treatment along with mental health treatments for adults and children. But workers say staffing issues and inadequate training are barriers to providing quality care.
“Patients are sometimes admitted with weapons or drugs in their possession,” continued Panattieri-Cipriano. “Workers need to be properly trained on how to do searches, identify issues, and handle it accordingly. If they can’t, it puts everyone at risk – us and patients.”
With safety a daily concern and the opioid epidemic keeping beds full, the workers are calling on management to invest in the workforce. However, starting wages for hands-on mental health techs is just over $10/hour at First Hospital, compared to other local facilities where the average is $15/hour.
“141 workers have quit since last year – that’s a 50% turnover rate. A young guy just left to go work at Lowe’s where he can make $14. With no risk factor and more money, can you blame him?” said Tony Deluca, a mental health tech at the hospital for 19 years. Deluca knows being able to retain staff means safer, better care. “A lot of our patients have been there several times and I have known some of them for years. They trust me, and as a result, are a lot less likely to act out.”
The healthcare workers say they do this work to make an impact on lives and help the community. But with management not listening to the needs and input of hands-on staff, it’s frustrating.
“It’s a challenge because mental health and addiction isn’t just about giving someone a pill to get better, it’s a multitude of things: therapy, emotional support, sometimes physical support, plus medication,” continued Panattieri-Cipriano. “You need every part of the hospital – from the CEO to the workers – all on the same page in how to fight this epidemic. If we don’t have that, we’re going to fail, and the community is going to suffer for it.”
Over 240 nurses and other healthcare workers at First Hospital are part of SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania.