NC Mental Health Workers Demand Ongoing Hazard Pay, Safe Staffing

April 30, 2021

State mental health workers across North Carolina, having worked more than a year through the pandemic, are now demanding relief. Over 700 Department of Health and Human Services workers have signed petitions demanding restoration of hazard premium pay, safe staffing levels, and other safety measures.

Despite the ongoing need to provide care for COVID-19 positive patients in the hospitals and developmental centers, DHHS ended hazard premium payments on January 31.

“We all know that the pandemic has led to an increase in mental illness,” said Dr. Rakesh Patel, a medical doctor at Central Regional Hospital and president of the Butner-area UE Local 150 chapter. “The way you take care of patients is by funding the workers who actually do the work to take care of them,” Patel continued. “The folks on the front lines need some help. They are chronically underpaid.”

The State of North Carolina will be receiving hundreds of millions of dollars from the American Rescue Plan, and has approximately $3.5 billion in combined cash reserves. Local 150 is demanding that some of this money be directed towards state DHHS workers.

Workers with signs reading Honk for Hazard Pay and Safe Staffing

“We were understaffed before the pandemic,” said Patel. “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.”

“Understaffing is a big problem at the hospital,” said Darrion Smith, a youth program education assistant and vice president of UE’s Eastern Region. “Workers are getting burnt out and even hurt because we don’t have enough staff.” Smith was recently injured on the job while working on an understaffed children’s unit at Central Regional Hospital. “We had a crisis situation while working with bare minimum staff,” he explained. “This happens too often.”

Workers at Central Regional Hospital are also demanding a centralized staffing system to allow for more efficient and fair staff scheduling and less forced overtime.

The full text of the union petition can be found at https://bit.ly/DHHSHazard

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