Feeling the stress

Feeling the stress

DARRYL ENRIQUEZ

Stress and frustration over possible layoffs and demotions have the 1,500 employees at Doyne Hospital feeling ill and indignant.

Many employees called in sick over a 2 1/2-week period last month, causing the loss of a $300,000 hospital contract, said interim hospital director Thomas Brophy.

As details of an impending merger with neighboring Froedtert Memorial Lutheran Hospital are being worked out, more Doyne employees than ever are being disciplined for absenteeism, tardiness and being uncooperative with their bosses, county personnel records show.

Those records also show that Brophy, who last year reluctantly agreed to leave his Department of Human Services post to take over the huge hospital on a temporary basis, also has been threatened by a riled employee.

Supervisor Lynne DeBruin, a member of the County Board Health Committee, which sets policy at the county hospital, said 20 disciplinary hearings against Doyne employees had been set this month, representing a 60% increase from the average.

Henry Zielinski, the county’s top labor negotiator, said employees called in sick starting in mid-December after rumors of a “use or lose” policy in regard to sick days. Employees believed sick days would be lost to layoffs brought on by staff reductions or the merger.

Brophy and other officials say they are strictly enforcing a policy that forbids hospital employees to take more than two sick days every three months. That policy is spelled out in employee contracts. Even a doctor’s excuse doesn’t prevent someone from violating the absenteeism policy, said Zielinski, the county’s chief labor negotiator. Workers Losing Confidence

Employee confidence is being shaken on several fronts. A merger between Doyne, one of only two unionized hospitals remaining in the county, and Froedtert Memorial Lutheran Hospital, a non-union shop, has employees afraid of losing job security.

Stoking the fears were threatening statements a custodial worker aimed at Brophy shortly after Brophy announced the layoff of 34 employees as a cost-saving measure in November.

Although the threats were not made directly to Brophy, officials in the county Human Resources Department were concerned enough to take disciplinary action against the employee, who had been suspended for five days in March for threatening other hospital employees.

Also of concern to employees is talk of a 2% cut in each hospital department to prevent yet another year of red ink in the 1995 books. Last year, the hospital, with a $220 million operating budget, ended up $19 million in the hole.

On Thursday, Brophy tried to calm hospital workers by sending them a newsletter with their paychecks. In it, Brophy promised to keep employees better informed through a bi-weekly newsletter and a telephone hot line to address rumors and questions.

“I know that the stress for each employee is great,” the newsletter says. “All of you are being asked to come to work daily and take care of patients while still wondering what will be happening next at Doyne.

“Not only are there many 1995 budget uncertainties, but there are also active merger discussions taking place.

“My first priority as acting hospital administrator is to attempt to stabilize Doyne’s 1995 financial situation and manage within the approved County Board budget.

“If Doyne’s fiscal condition does not improve, there will be even greater stress and uncertainty.”

DeBruin said she agreed with Brophy’s actions. “They need answers, even it is `I don’t know,’ ” she said. Meal Contract Canceled

DeBruin and Brophy agree that the morale problems are not affecting patient care, but rumors brought on by the uncertainty are being blamed for the loss of a contract with the Visiting Nurses Association of Greater Milwaukee to have its food services department supply up to 350 meals daily to association clients.

The association would pick up the meals from Doyne and deliver them to the homes of clients seven days a week. After expenses were subtracted, Doyne would have profited about $100,000 from the $300,000 contract, Brophy said.

By the end of the month, Doyne officials realized the food services area of the hospital couldn’t meet its commitment, and it asked the Visiting Nurses Association to cancel the contract, which it did.

Brophy said he didn’t believe what the employees did was really an organized job action. He said it was more of a reaction to stress, the rumor and the coming Christmas holidays.

Copyright 1995

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