Oakwood is looking for a few good men and women — and the search is apparently going well.

The Center for Rural Development will host a job fair for the Communities at Oakwood Wednesday. The local mental health facility, which has endured a string of personnel problems as of late leading to numerous citations and complaints about overtime hours, is seeking to obtain adequate staffing to prevent overloading its already strained employees.

“We have had an effort to recruit (new workers) over the last few weeks because of the vacancies,” said Oakwood director Bob Ritz. Vacancies have indeed been caused by staffing attrition — the result of employees getting in trouble and even indicted for negligent or abusive actions, or getting fed up with excessive workloads and quitting.

Some Oakwood staffers spoke anonymously to the Commonwealth Journal in late 2005, saying that Oakwood is so grossly understaffed that existing employees find themselves on “mandatory overtime lists,” and claiming that it is not uncommon to be asked to work 15-hour shifts every other day.

If the employees refuse the overtime, staffers said, they are required to write a “refusal statement,” which they claimed resulted in disciplinary action and, ultimately, dismissal.

When Ritz arrived at Oakwood as the new facility director in early February, he said he was aware of the staffing problems, considered them a serious matter and would utilize a history of handling management problems in order to enact a solution.

While it appears that the problems have not been solved completely — one Oakwood worker approached the Commonwealth Journal Monday afternoon with complaints about issues regarding overtime shifts — the job fair and move to hire a substantial number of new employees is being looked at as a step in the right direction.

“We need to hire staff to make sure we have enough staff on duty on any given shift,” said Ritz, mentioning that this practice would deal specifically with curing the issue of overtime hours.

No target number for new hirings was specified, but Ritz confirmed that 238 applications from prospective employees have already been approved pending background checks, and 87 new staffers are already in training.

Ritz said that while background checks have always been a part of the process, one new safeguard put in place is a drug screen, designed to prevent personnel problems such as those that led to Oakwood receiving 15 citations combined in 2005 and 2006.

“We’re moving full steam ahead in hiring folks,” said Ritz. “People have been trickling in every day, requesting applications. I’m very pleased.”

Another job fair will be held in April and other job fairs have been held in neighboring counties, Ritz said.

As applicants should expect, Ritz said that potential employees will have explained to them what Oakwood is offering regarding various positions, and have them fill out and turn in an application. Ritz also mentioned a sign-up bonus, such that if an individual is employed after 60 days, he or she gets a $250 bonus, with subsequent $200 bonuses after being on the job three months, six months and nine months, and $500 at the end of one year.

“It rewards the folks who stay with us,” said Ritz.

A starting salary for someone with a high school diploma or GED is $11.50 per hour; for a CNA (Certified Nursing Assistant), it’s $12 per hour; for those with an Associate’s or Bachelor’s Degree, hourly rates are $12.50 to $13, respectively. Shift differential for evening and nights is 50 cents per hour, and a dollar per hour on weekends. Time and a half is paid on six major holidays, paid time off includes 225 hours per year. Life insurance is paid by the employer, as is short term disability and a 401 (k) plan.

Health insurance features a $34.11 premium paid by the employee for the employee. Additional coverage for family, spouse or children is paid 100 percent by the employee.

“We have a pretty competitive salary range, and competitive in terms of bonuses,” said Ritz.

Considering Oakwood officials stated in the past that the number of residents and staff at the facility would have to be greatly downsized for the facility to survive, taking on a large number of employees via a job fair — aimed primarily at direct care staffers — seems antithetical to that plan.

Ritz, however, said that the new hirings will fit in with that long-range plan — “Over time there will be less need for all positions,” said Ritz. “Most likely that will occur through attrition.”

The job fair will be at The Center from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday.

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