Draining and dangerous: Target 2 Investigates shortage at Winnebago Mental Health

WINNEBAGO COUNTY, Wis. (WBAY) - Draining, dangerous, and exhausting: these are words used by some current and former employees of the state-run Winnebago Mental Health Institute in Oshkosh to describe their work schedules.

Pushed to the limit, they reached out to Target 2 Investigates to voice concerns about staff injuries, overtime, and dozens of vacancies at the facility.

As of Oct. 23, there were 60 open positions at the Winnebago Mental Health Institute. That's about 10 percent of the entire staff.

Two dozen positions are for psychiatric care technicians, or PCTs.

PCTs contacted Target 2, saying they're frustrated due to forced overtime to cover those vacant jobs. Some are choosing to quit.

"Our job is dangerous. It's dangerous and we can't keep going on like this," says Denise Koentopp, current PCT. "More and more people are going to walk out that door."

Koentopp and other workers tell us they are continually forced to work full shifts of overtime: more than 16 hours at a time.

They tell us this happens a couple of times a week.

Some staff say they've been hurt on the job. Patients have complained that there are not enough people to take care of them.

Target 2 filed open records requests with the state. We received pages and pages listing more than 500 injuries to staff since January of 2016.

Three complaints regarding staffing were filed in that time. "If management thinks that patients are being given adequate care, they are sadly mistaken," reads one complaint.

Employees say the long shifts put their health at risk, as well as the safety of the community.

"Was driving home at 3 o'clock, traffic was absolutely terrible, and not only did I fall asleep at the stop light, but I didn't even wake up to people honking at me. Somebody had to physically get out of their vehicle and rap on my car door to wake me up," said Corinna Lundquist, former PCT at Winnebago Mental Health Institute. "I had pulled over at the nearest gas station and called my husband and said you have to come and get me, because I cannot stay awake."

We heard similar stories from employees who chose to talk with us over the phone.

Target 2 made repeated requests for interviews with Department of Health Services. That's the agency that oversees Winnebago Mental Health Institute. We were declined an interview.

DHS did release a detailed statement to Target 2. Thursday on Action 2 News at 10, we'll show you what the agency says is being done to improve the working conditions.

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