By: Brittany Bedi | WCTV Eyewitness News
March 26, 2019
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) -- Florida legislators are considering adding hazard pay and protections under House Bill 803. If passed, the bill would reclassify 1,800 workers at Florida mental health facilities as a "special-risk class" in the Florida retirement system. This would also provide higher compensation and early retirement for workers that spend at least 65% of their time in direct contact with patients and inmates.
“The job has hazards every day. Just last night, I witnessed a resident attack a supervisor. Myself, I have been attacked a couple times on the job. I’ve been hit in the head, I’ve been kicked, I have had chairs thrown at me as well,” said Jasper Lester, a human services worker at Florida State Hospital.
“We’re the ones on the front lines. The nurses can’t see them without us. They can’t go anywhere without staff there. We just want to be treated fairly,” another employee added.
Donald Bailey is a behavioral programming specialist at Sunland Developmental Disabilities Center in Marianna. He notes that unlike correctional institutions, the patients are not in cells or have a barrier between themselves and hospital workers.
"I had my teeth broken out, busted up. I have a busted shoulder. I’ve been hit with a chair, I’ve been knocked down, dragged out. I’m working with a time bomb," said Bailey. "We should have this at-risk pay. It’s a no-brainer about this. We should be getting the same as corrections.”
The bill is sponsored by Representative Vance Aloupis and Senator Manny Diaz Jr. Aloupis brought up the bill at a House special committee hearing.
“These people are literally putting themselves in danger by going to work every day, and it’s our responsibility to make sure that we take care of them,” said Rep. Aloupis. “The main question would be around the cost of this bill. The bill itself would expand the special risk class to 1,800 individuals at the four centers. We believe that the fiscal impact will be around $6 million, but to make sure that we have a very clear sense of what it would cost the state, we’re going to request an actuarial study and bring the bill back up next year."
Florida State Hospital in Chattahoochee, Sunland Developmental Disabilities Center in Marianna, Northeast Florida State Hospital in Macclenny and North Florida Evaluation and Treatment Center in Gainesville will be part of the actuarial study.