FULTON, Mo. - About half of the employees at the Fulton State Hospital will be required to work 12-hour shifts, instead of their current eight-hour shifts, starting July 1.
The change will affect from 600 to 700 of the hospital's 1,300 employees, said Marty Martin-Foreman, chief operating officer at the hospital.
The change will mainly affect security aides and psychiatric technicians included in the direct-care staff at the state mental hospital.
"It will affect Security Aide-1 and Security Aide-2 employees, but not Security Aide-3 employees and other staff members, such as registered nurses," Martin-Foreman said.
Several years ago, the hospital tried flexible work hours for the direct-care staff, but abandoned it because it was too costly. Not everyone participated, and overtime costs were excessive, she said.
Rep. Jeanie Riddle, R-Mokane, pushed legislation through the Missouri General Assembly last year that prohibits the hospital from requiring employees to work more than 12 hours in a 24-hour period unless the Missouri Department of Mental Health declares a workforce shortage.
Riddle said working multiple back-to-back eight-hour shifts can cause overall poor health and slower reaction time for employees. She said employees on duty sometimes have to stay on duty if their next-shift replacement does not show up to work.
Because the legislation is effective July 1, Martin-Foreman said the staff began to consider various scheduling options.
"Right now," Martin-Foreman said, "we have three eight-hour shifts to cover one 24-hour day. Moving to a 12-hour schedule will mean only two shifts in one day. We have been considering this for about one year. It turns out there are a lot of advantages to 12-hour shifts to the majority of our workforce."
Shift choice assignments are based mainly on seniority. "A new person now might be assigned a Monday and a Tuesday as days off during the week. That's not very desirable, especially to young people who prefer to have weekends off," Martin-Foreman said.
Under 12-hour shifts, every direct-care staff member will have a weekend off roughly every four to five weeks.
"This will make it easier to hire staff members," she said. "It also should help us retain employees because many of them get tired of not having a weekend off."
She said many hospitals around the nation use 12-hour shifts instead of eight-hour shifts.
"We met with the union representing employees to discuss the new hours. We made some changes based on our conversations with the unions," Martin-Foreman said.
The new 12-hour schedule will also provide considerably more days off throughout the year. Workers with eight-hour shifts who work 40 hours a week now work 273 days a year. This provides about 91 days off with an eight-hour schedule. On a 12-hour schedule, employees will work 182 days a year. They receive 182 days off each year, twice as many as with eight-hour shifts.
"Studies show that when employees grow accustomed to the new 12-hour schedule, they are unwilling to give up the twice as many days off they receive. They no longer want to work five days a week. We are hoping this change will help us retain staff," Martin-Foreman said.
Eliminating one entire shift each day also makes scheduling much easier and avoids many problems caused by trying to cover shifts when someone calls in sick.
The two new 12-hour shifts will be 6:45 a.m.-7:15 p.m. and 6:45 p.m.-7:15 a.m.
The change does have its down sides.
"If you work a 12-hour day, your day is filled mainly by work and sleep. It doesn't offer as much spare time each workday," Martin-Foreman said.
Another problem with 12-hour shifts is covering a 40-hour week. Full-time state employees are required by law to work 40 hours a week. This means they will work three 12-hour shifts and one four-hour shift each week.
"Many people think that one four-hour shift each week will cause problems," Martin-Foreman said. "I do have some staff members living outside of Callaway County. If you are driving from, for example, Montgomery County, you might not want to work just four hours after driving that far. On the other hand, you could always volunteer to work overtime that day if we needed someone that day."
Martin-Foreman said the change won't affect previously granted vacation periods scheduled under the current eight-hour shift setup.
"The biggest complaints I have heard involve child care," Martin-Foreman said. "This turns babysitting and day care on its ear. Many of them provide only care for eight hours. But we are hoping that if there is a demand for 12 hours of care, someone will provide that service."
Some day care facilities also require payment on a five-day basis. People with 12-hour shifts won't need services for five days but they would need longer hours of care during the week.
"I told our employees back in March to be talking to their day care providers to try to work something out before July 1," Martin-Foreman said. "We will have from 600 to 700 workers involved in this change. That's a significant number."
Another downside is what happens to children after they arrive home from school in the middle of the afternoon with the parent not getting off work until 7:15 p.m.
"Without a doubt," Martin-Foreman said, "the biggest problems with 12-hour shifts involve the care of children. The longer working hours mean less time with children. That's a legitimate concern. We just hope the pros outweigh the cons. On their extra days off, they will be able to spend much more time with children. Certainly from the standpoint of care of the clients, the pros far outweigh the cons."
Martin-Forman said the hospital will give the change a good test of at least six months.
"We will be evaluating all aspects of the changes," Martin-Foreman said. "Some staff members have told us this change will turn their lives upside down. But the majority think this sounds like it will be good for them."
The president of the union representing employees was not available for comment.