A veteran cook says Pinecrest Hospital imposes a hostile work environment, and about 90 of her co-workers agree.

In Charleston, the state Department of Health and Human Resources found no reason to sustain their complaint and dismissed the Level Three grievance filed en masse by the disgruntled staff at the state-run institution in Beckley.

Dorothea Henderson, an 11-year veteran of the hospital, likens employment at Pinecrest to that of being held as an inmate in a prison.

“The only thing missing is the barbed wire up around these fence posts,” Henderson said.

Henderson wants Gov. Joe Manchin to order an independent agency to conduct a thorough, impartial investigation of Pinecrest, covering not only complaints by employees but her contentions that residents are suffering by being short-changed on food and toilet articles in cost-cutting moves.

“What we’re asking is that somebody go beyond the administration and talk to different people on different floors on different shifts and get the real story,” Henderson said.

“Once you hit the administration, they make it look like everything is hunky dory, and it’s not.”

A Level One complaint is handled by an immediate supervisor, and Level Two is when it progresses to that official’s supervisor. Level Three complaints are heard by DHHR in Charleston.

Since not every employee signed a separate complaint, Henderson was advised, DHHR dismissed the grievance.

John Law, communications director for DHHR, said the number of employees signing Henderson’s petition didn’t figure into the decision for dismissing the complaint.

“It was not dismissed because of the number of people,” Law said after consulting with the agency’s chief grievance officer.

“It was dismissed because we could not grant her the relief she sought. It had nothing to do with the fact there was one or 90. We could not grant the relief. That was what the decision was made on.”

Law said he couldn’t discuss the specifics of the grievance.

Employees are upset by a new dress code that forbids blue jeans, sweat pants or any shirt bearing advertising, Henderson said.

“You cannot wear any pants with elastic around the waist or bottom,” she said.

“They told us not to wear certain things anymore. We’ve been wearing those things for years. Some people have been here 30 some years. It’s gotten to the point where guys cannot wear baseball caps.”

As of Dec. 1, an employee break room was locked up on every floor, meaning staffers must now take respites downstairs in a single room, she said.

“By the time you get downstairs for a 15-minute break, it’s over with,” she said. “What are we supposed to do? The administration has its own break room on the 1-A classroom. Now they want us to clock out if we leave the grounds on a lunch break. They ride around the grounds 24-7 to see who’s leaving. We’ve lost a lot of people lately. Our turnover at Pinecrest is terrible. We’ve got some employees with 20 and 30 years leaving. They cannot tolerate it anymore. It’s that bad.”

Soon after she filed the grievance in October, the cook said, retaliation reared itself in an ugly matter she called “the maggot incident.”

Apparently, someone sabotaged a food cart by placing maggots on six of the trays, Henderson said.

“We do these wagons three times a day, seven days a week, so there is no way you’re going to have six trays sitting up in a wagon for three months with maggots in them,” she said.

Each time a cart is returned from its meal run, it is “busted down,” and an employee literally has to get down on his knees to wipe them clean, she explained.

“And you never send the same wagon to the same floor,” Henderson said.

“When you line them up, you don’t know which is going to which floor. Somebody set these trays on the clean trays that went to our residents. Those trays had been there since August. Somebody was trying to set us up.”

Hostilities became more blatant once the grievance was lodged, Henderson said, evidenced by supervisors nit-picking at employees.

“If you sneeze wrong, they take you down the hall and let you know you sneezed wrong,” she said.

Henderson said patients are getting cost-cutter food and toiletry items.

“We had always not spared expenses for residents,” she said. “People need to be taken care of. With elderly people, you have to use the best care for them. You can’t just throw anything on their skin. They’ve cut back on soap, lotions. And they don’t want us to cook as much food.”

Patients aren’t starving, she emphasized, but the kitchen is under orders to serve food not strictly in compliance. For instance, Henderson said, diabetic residents are getting the same fare as others, meaning their diet includes such taboo items as sugar and butter.

When she questioned this practice, Henderson said she was told, “They are older people and they’re dying.”

“They’re wanting us to feed everybody the same,” she said. “It’s cheaper.”

Henderson said she found this unacceptable since not all residents can tolerate skim milk and low-cholesterol eggs.

Even portions of nighttime snacks have been trimmed, she said.

Unrest also has centered on a decision to deprive employees of personal, individual lockers to stash personal items while on duty, the cook said.

“Now, they want you, say as a nurse, working 5-to-1, to put your stuff in a locker, and when you leave at 1 p.m., the next person puts their stuff in,” she said.

“We’ve never had that problem. They’ve got enough lockers to go around for everybody.”

Henderson says Manchin needs to send an agency with no ties to DHHR to investigate the complaints she and others have voiced.

“We’re begging for help and it seems like nobody is listening,” Henderson said.

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