The results of a 2018 All Employee Survey of Roseburg Veterans Affairs Medical Center staff suggest negative views of management remain despite a rollover of the top brass. However, the head of the employee union at the VA said he believes morale has improved since Interim Director Dave Whitmer took over this year.
The survey, which is taken every year at the VA, drew responses from 836 employees this year. That’s 71 percent of the staff members who are part of the Roseburg VA, including the clinics it runs in Eugene and on the coast. Overall, the scores were similar to last year’s.
Whitmer, who came on board in February, said the key metric in his view is the improved score for Best Place to Work. Last year, the Roseburg VA scored 54 out of 100 on that measure. It received a score of 60 this year.
Whitmer said the best place to work score is made up of a combination of scores on how engaged employees are, whether they would recommend others work at the VA and how they view senior leaders.
The overall scores employees gave to both their supervisors and senior leadership were low this year, as they were last year. Whitmer said the overall rating of leadership remains lower than at other VAs.
“I’ve been here for seven months and I think we’re making improvement, but this is a marathon to regain trust of the staff and the community,” he said. “It’s certainly not a sprint, but I think we’re going in the right direction.”
The responses varied dramatically depending on the kind of work the staffers performed. Some departments, including the police and security service, human resources, fiscal services and housekeeping staff, gave VA leadership high marks.
The most committed group of VA workers, according to the survey results, were the nurses. Sixty-seven percent of them said they had no intention of quitting the VA. Nurses gave middle-of-the-road scores overall about supervisors and the work environment as a whole.
Overall, physicians and other clinical staff appeared particularly unhappy with leadership and with the work environment. One-third of the physicians said they felt disengaged from the VA, a concern since high turnover has been one of the institution’s biggest problems over the years. The physicians reported high levels of exhaustion. Even so, 47 percent said they don’t intend to leave.
Whitmer said the survey results will be used to identify the changes each supervisor needs to make. Based on this year’s survey, they’ll be working to improve communication, increase accountability for work standards and address staff workloads.
Karl Tanner, president of the American Federation of Public Employees Local 1042 that represents Roseburg VA employees, said Whitmer is the best director he’s seen in his 17 years at the VA, and things are improving.
“Do I see the environment changing at the VA? To that, I answer a very clear, definite ‘Yes,’” he said. “We don’t have as much bullying and intimidation. We don’t have the real bad incidents going on with all of the employee harassment and everything else.”
Tanner thinks doctors are more unhappy than nurses and administrative staff because their work conditions are worse. Because the VA has a shortage of doctors, those it does have are so inundated with patients they are working 20 to 40 hours overtime every week, sometimes without even time for a lunch break, he said.
Tanner said one reason employees are dissatisfied with supervisors is that the VA doesn’t have the mentorship program it needs to help supervisors do a better job.
He also said employees remain afraid of the human resources department, which he said boasts of its high number of disciplinary actions against employees. Their initial response to issues with an employee remains to recommend firing or disciplinary action, Tanner said.
“We don’t hire bad employees. We hire great employees and we make them bad by not giving them the direction, training, supervision or management that they need. That’s what we see in the employee survey,” Tanner said.