“If I’m not there, somebody has to work overtime to fill my position,” says Wade Larson, a security officer at Elgin Mental Health Center, a state psychiatric hospital in Elgin, Ill.
Larson’s matter-of-fact statement is not provoked by the fact that he and his colleagues, who work as security, regulatory and sworn officers for more than a dozen state agencies, agreed in May to take eight furlough days in fiscal year 2011 in return for layoff protection.
Instead, Larson’s statement is a testament to what has happened in many states and localities over the past decade: insufficient reinvestment in programs, services and facility maintenance.
Larson, a member of the Illinois Federation of Public Employees, has averaged 500 hours in overtime annually for the last five years—at least. Some of his colleagues, he notes, have clocked more than 800 hours in overtime in a year.
The reason: The officer corps at the hospital has steadily dropped in the past 10 years from 52 officers to 32 officers. Not a healthy situation for a hospital with 400 patients, the majority of whom are “forensic patients” who have been sent to the hospital because a court found them either unfit to stand trial or guilty by reason of insanity.