Another State Route to Riches: Institutional Attendants Earning Six Figures

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The job listings for “institutional attendants (psychiatric)” positions in the state Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities, and Hospitals (BHDDH) offer a salary in the mid-$30,000s, and payroll information available through the RIOpenGov project of the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity suggests top regular pay in the low-$40,000s.

In 2010 and 2011, however, almost all of those employees added significantly to their pay by working extra hours, as well as other salary enhancements and bonuses that the state reports as “overtime.” A significant number of them doubled their base pay or more.

Last week, in an article on the Ocean State Current about the high take-home pay of some nurses at government-run Eleanor Slater Hospital, state and union officials pointed to low staffing levels as the reason for high overtime payments. In other media outlets, Craig Stenning, the director of BHDDH, of which Eleanor Slater is a division, stated that eased hiring rules are now helping to bring down the need for overtime.

However, reporter Suzanne Bates noted on the Current that the only job openings for the hospital listed on the state’s official online job board were for “institutional attendant (psychiatric)” positions. As of Wednesday morning, April 3rd, the job listings for the entire department of BHDDH included eight for institutional attendant (psychiatric), one for mental health worker, two for social caseworker II, and two for janitor.

Institutional attendants are not registered nurses, but nursing assistants represented by the Council 94 labor union.  The job notices describe the education requirement as “completion of 8 school grades” or experience that provided an equivalent level of knowledge. Candidates must also complete a training course and pass a certification examination.

The Executive Office of Health and Human Services (EOHHS) did not return multiple emails and calls for additional, specific information.  However, of the 85 employees on the 2011 payroll for whom the Current was able to confirm the institutional attendant (psychiatric) job title, 18 made more in overtime than in regular pay. In 2010, 20 of the 93 employees with that title did the same.

Of the 18 in 2011, four collected more than $100,000 in total pay, despite having regular pay of less than $43,000.  In 2010, seven collected more than $100,000. The following chart shows all attendants’ 2011 gross pay, with regular pay and overtime.

Institutional Attendants (Psychiatric) Gross Pay Including Regular and Overtime, FY11

According to the program page on the Web site of the Community College of Rhode Island, the required training course lasts six to ten weeks. A candidate handbook available on the Web site of Pearson Vue, which administers the examination for the state, gives samples of the questions and skills necessary to pass the test, mainly including general hygiene and living assistance, as well as basic medical tasks.

The handbook also makes clear that an oral examination is available for applicants who have difficulty reading English. To determine which test to take, the handbook includes vocabulary and reading comprehension questions. One multiple choice question is: “Fish live in [blank].”

The Current was unable to confirm through EOHHS the number of institutional attendant (psychiatric) employees actually on the payroll for each year. However, officials with the state Budget Office pointed to the payroll supplements published with every year’s budget.  The total full-time equivalents (FTEs) shown on these documents are not the number of employees in each position currently working for state government, but rather, the appropriated number, or the number whom the departments were authorized to hire.

Even so, the total FTEs for the institutional attendant (psychiatric) position consistently fell, from 108 in 2009 to 98 in the 2013 budget.  The 2014 budget, if passed, would return the number to 108.  As of March 15 of this year, there were 86 institutional attendants (psychiatric) actually on the payroll.

The following seven attendants earned gross pay of more than $100,000 in 2010, 2011, or both.

Rhode Island Government Institutional Attendants (Psychiatric) Making over $100,000 in FY10 or FY11

2011 2010
Name, Division Gross Pay Overtime Pay Regular Pay Gross Pay Overtime Pay Regular Pay
Sandy Ratsombath, ESH $113,759 $71,759 $42,040 $112,233 $71,383 $40,850
Betty Korngor, ESH $113,442 $75,321 $38,121 $115,758 $79,253 $36,505
Jane Davis, ESH $105,299 $65,942 $39,357 $101,993 $63,750 $38,243
Annie Logan, ESH $101,080 $61,724 $39,356 $106,308 $68,065 $38,243
Nelda Toby, ESH $97,237 $54,303 $42,934 $103,765 $62,045 $41,720
Folabomi Ekundayo, ESH $94,963 $57,184 $37,779 $117,041 $80,351 $36,690
Larry Corry, ESH $93,607 $50,049 $43,558 $112,549 $70,215 $42,334
Note: “ESH” = Eleanor Slater Hospital, Cranston

 

Editorial change: Inserted “collected” in the place of “took home” in paragraph seven. 3:22 p.m. 4/4/13.