The Rock County Board is scheduled to vote Thursday night on proposed pay hikes and signing bonuses for its staff at the troubled Rock Haven nursing home.
The move comes in the wake of controversy over Rock Haven’s decision to lay off staff members who declined to get COVID-19 vaccinations. Rock Haven already has suffered staff shortages, but the vaccine controversy made things worse, said board member Doug Wilde, who proposed the pay hikes and other changes.
Wilde spoke Monday night to the board Staff Committee, where six of nine committee members pushed through a change that at least would delay the pay hikes.
The resolution also calls for hiring a consultant to investigate the work environment, climate and culture at Rock Haven, “including potential violations of the personnel ordinance and the human resources section of the administrative policy and procedure manual related to interactions between management and staff.”
Board member Russ Podzilni proposed holding off on the pay hikes and other proposed measures until the investigation is complete.
Committee members Alan Sweeney, Louis Peer, Kevin Leavy, Bob Yeomans and Mary Beaver agreed.
Podzilni argued that the proposal relies too much on compensation and that officials should hear what staff management problems exist before addressing the staff shortage.
The resolution will be presented to the board’s Health Services Committee on Wednesday and Finance Committee on Thursday before the full board meeting that night.
If the three committees disagree, then the original resolution—without Podzilni’s amendment—will be presented to the board, Corporation Counsel Richard Greenlee said.
Rock Haven staff members are among the lowest paid on the county payroll, according to the resolution.
County Administrator Josh Smith said at Monday’s meeting that the proposed pay hikes would put Rock Haven pay rates ahead of the average for private nursing homes.
Smith acknowledged that Rock Haven’s staff receives better retirement benefits than in private nursing homes, but he said that’s not a strong selling point to younger recruits.
Peer said the recently hired Rock Haven administrator should be given time to assess the situation before the board makes changes.
Beaver questioned whether higher pay would make a difference, saying: “All the money in the world is not going to make people happy to come to work.”
Rock Haven had 40 vacancies among its certified nursing assistants as of Feb. 11, an increase of 12 over the number of vacancies Jan. 1, according to an administration memo.
The facility also has six registered nurse vacancies out of 26 such positions authorized and four vacancies among license practical nurses out of 16 authorized, the memo states.
CNAs and activity therapy assistants would see increases of between 90 cents and $1.14 per hour, leading to hourly pay of $15.32 to $19.40 an hour.
LPNs also would get raises around $1 an hour, leading to hourly pay of $23.84 to $27.37 an hour.
Registered nurses would see $1 per hour increases, leading to hourly pay of $30.06 to $40.47 per hour.
“At first blush, it looks like a good idea,” said county board Chairman Rich Bostwick, speaking Monday before the meeting. “I think it’s been well thought out. It’ll go a long ways to stop the bleeding, and it should boost morale right off the bat.”
Some skilled nursing facilities in the area offer $2,000 bonuses to new staff, and the county would match that amount for CNAs, LPNs and RNs who take jobs through the end of the year.
They would get $500 at hiring, $500 at six months and $1,000 at one year. Current staff employed less than six months would receive $500 at six months and $1,000 at one year.
The plan also would give cash rewards to Rock Haven staff who refer certified nursing assistants, licensed practical nurses or registered nurses who take jobs at Rock Haven.
The referring staff member would receive incentives of $500 when the new hire begins working, another $500 when the person reaches six months on the job and $1,000 at 12 months of employment.
RNs now are paid time and a half when they volunteer for shifts. The new plan would give the same incentive to CNAs, LPNs, activity therapy assistants, environmental service workers and food service staff.
Likewise, the new plan would increase shift-differential pay from $1 to $2 for CNAs and LPNs working evening or night shift, equaling the differential now paid to RNs.
The plan calls for re-establishing a “pipeline” of CNAs who graduate from Blackhawk Technical College, with Rock Haven covering school costs for those who take jobs at the facility.
The costs of all the changes would be about $297,539 in 2021, with costs rising in 2022.