New Missouri law restricts shifts for mental health workers

Shifts for workers at Missouri mental health facilities will be capped under a state law taking effect Monday.

The law prevents employees at a maximum- or intermediate-security mental health facility from being required to work more than 12 hours during a 24-hour period unless an emergency workforce shortage is declared. The cap will affect about 680 positions at the Fulton State Hospital and the Southeast Missouri Mental Health Center in Farmington. It takes effect Monday, which also is the start of Missouri’s 2014 fiscal year.

Missouri lawmakers approved the restrictions last year.

Fulton State Hospital has hired additional staff, the state Department of Mental Health said, and is also starting 12-hour shifts for nursing staff, such as security aides and registered nurses. Among the hospital’s patients are those who have been committed by the courts for evaluation or treatment. It also is the statewide treatment facility for people who have been found not guilty or unable to stand trial because of mental issues.

Department spokeswoman Debra Walker said the challenging physical environment and the nature of the work at the Fulton State Hospital have required some people to work longer than 12 hours on a given day. She cited the example of a unit with a potentially dangerous patient who requires extra supervision and an employee from the next shift calling in sick.

Rep. Jeanie Riddle, whose legislative district includes the Fulton State Hospital, said the work rules are designed to protect employees. Plus, she said, unexpected, longer work days can make it harder to schedule errands, parent-teacher conferences and other personal responsibilities.

“In very stressful situations, you’re at your optimum if you’ve had the opportunity to get some rest,” said Riddle, R-Mokane. “Safety is the primary goal.”

Meanwhile, a state tax break could wind down on Monday.

Missouri has offered a tax credit to those who produce wood products to be used as an energy source, but no new credits can be authorized starting Monday. Though the Legislature this year passed a measure to extend the wood energy tax credit through June 2019 and capping it at $3 million annually, Gov. Jay Nixon has not yet taken action on the bill.

The Department of Revenue said nearly $3.1 million worth of wood energy credits were authorized during the 2012 budget year with about $2.3 million redeemed. In 2011, nearly $3.3 million of credits were authorized and $3.8 million were redeemed. The amount of tax credits redeemed in a given year can exceed the amount authorized because tax credits can be carried forward from one year to another.