Mo. law to limit working hours at mental hospitals

Gov. Jay Nixon signed legislation Thursday that protects workers at the Fulton State Hospital from being forced to work double shifts because of staff shortages.

The legislation, which was sponsored by state Rep. Jeanie Riddle, R-Mokane, prohibits mental health employees at the Fulton State Hospital from being required to work more than 12 hours in a 24-hour period unless the Department of Mental Health declares an emergency workforce shortage.

The bill also applies to the sexual offender rehabilitation and treatment program in Farmington.

To give the Fulton hospital time to adjust its workforce, the legislation goes into effect July 1, 2013.

When Riddle introduced the bill, it would have been effective immediately. But that was changed during the legislative process. A provision also was added, allowing an exemption if the Department of Mental Health declares an emergency workforce shortage. The legislation also was combined with several other mental health-related bills.

“Employees at Fulton State Hospital deserve to work in the safest environment possible,” Riddle said. “Having to work multiple back-to-back, eight-hour shifts can result in overall poor health and slower reaction time. This is unacceptable and can make life very difficult for the employees and their families,” Riddle said.

When shift replacements for hospital employees do not arrive, then other employees must stay to supervise clients and perform other necessary duties, Riddle said.

The legislation does not prohibit an employee from requesting to work extra time if he or she desires to do so.

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