Workers work seven days a week for sometimes 10 hours
KINGWOOD — Extra pay is good but can we do anything to help prevent employee burnout, Preston County Board of Health members asked Thursday.
The board commented after Preston County Health Department Director V.J. Davis discussed the number of hours full-time workers are putting in during COVID-19.
“We are right now, and we have been for the last three-and-a-half weeks, working seven days a week, eight, nine, 10 hours a day,” Davis said. “It doesn’t take long for that to accumulate.”
Since the coronavirus started, the department has paid about $30,000 in overtime, Davis said.
On Thursday, the board also approved a one-time payment of $1,000 “pandemic hazard pay” to each of the department’s regular, full-time workers and to County Health Officer Dr. Fred Conley. The State Department of Health and Human Resources gave counties the ability to give this, Davis said.
“This isn’t really about money as much as it is appreciation for hard work, long hours and being away from their families and tons of things they have missed over the course of the last seven months and probably over the course of the next six or seven months,” Davis said.
“The money is one thing, but I also have a concern about burnout,” Board Member Kendra Barker said.
“Sometimes you can go in [to the department] and the stress level, you can just see,” Board President Jim Fields said.
Davis said he makes the two nurses who are doing a lot of the overtime work take time off.
The state offers free counseling for employees. There are horror stories of health care workers on the verge of suicide, divorce and breakdowns, so he ensures that counseling information is shared, Davis said.
Each board member thanked the staff for its work during the pandemic.
The department has hired two part-time, temporary nurses to help. Barker asked about hiring another full-time person. But Davis said post-COVID-19 there’s no need for a third full-time nurse, but the person would be on payroll.
Two National Guardsmen have also been stationed in the department for two weeks.
As of Thursday, Preston had 272 confirmed cases, 38 probable cases and 65 active cases. About a month ago it had three active cases.
“We thought the Myrtle Beach outbreak was as bad as it was going to get, and this last month has been like three Myrtle Beach outbreaks,” Davis told the board. “It’s been very, very stressful.”
An active case is one that the department is still working on. Someone has tested positive and is still in quarantine so workers communicate with them daily.
“With those active cases we have to communicate not only with the person who tested positive but we’re also communicating with all of the contacts of the person that tested positive,” Davis said.
That 65 active cases means another 200-300 or more people are being contacted every two to three days. “That’s what’s taking up all of our time,” he said.
So far grants have paid all COVID-related expenses for the department.
Statewide, local health departments plan to ask the state legislature to restore funding that has been cut from local health departments.
“We’re hoping that COVID has revealed the fact that we have really half of the public health workers in West Virginia that we had 15, 20 years ago,” Davis said. “And that’s just due to continual funding cuts.”