Unions slam VA plan to track employees electronically


ByBobBrewin12/14/2011

UnionsrepresentingVeteransAffairsDepartmentemployeesblastedVAplanstoincludehospitalstafftrackingfunctionsindraftprocurementdocumentsissuedearlierthisweekforits$550millionReal-TimeLocationSystem.VAearlierthismonthsaidithadnoplanstousethesystemtotrackstaff.

Inthestatementofworkincludedinthedocuments,thedepartmentsaidthesystemwillprovidethe"abilitytotrackequipment,staffandpatientsatVAfacilities(andtheinteractionsthereof),withtheobjectiveofmonitoringbusinessandclinicalactivities...ThegoalistoimproveworkflowthroughanalysisofthedataprovidedbytheRTLS."

JosephineSchuda,aVAspokeswoman,toldNextgovonDec.5thatasofthatdatetherewasnoofficialplanforstafftaggingwithRTLS.Shesaidthenewcontractwill"buytechnologythatwillallowawiderangeofcapabilitiesforuseoverfiveyears."

VAplanstouseWi-Finetworksinstalledinits152hospitalsaugmentedbyultrasoundandinfraredtechnologytotrackpeopleandobjectsequippedwithwirelesstagswithanaccuracyof1meter.Departmentofficialshavesaidbeforetheyrolloutthesystemitwillhavethesupportofunionsrepresentingthe250,000employeesintheVeteransHealthAdministration.

ButElaineGerace,vicepresidentoftheServiceEmployeesInternationallocalfortheVAhospitalinSyracuse,N.Y.,andamemberoftheVeteransAffairsNationalPartnershipCouncil,saidnoneofthedepartment'sfiveunionssupportstheuseofRTLSforemployeetracking.

Geracesaid,"itwouldbemoreprudenttoexpectmanagersandsupervisorstoberesponsibleforknowingwheretheirstaffisratherthanspendingmoneythatwouldbebetterusedonveteranprogramsorhiringfrontlinestaffinordertobetterservetheveterans."

Mary-JeanBurke,firstexecutivevicepresidentoftheAmericaFederationofGovernmentEmployeesNationalVeteransAffairsCouncil,saidshehadnoideahowVAcametotheconclusionthatitwouldhaveunionsupportforelectronictrackingofemployeesandtheemployeetrackinglanguageinthedraftRTLSrequestforproposalsconveyed"theexactopposite"ofdiscussionstheunionshadwiththedepartmentatthenationallevel.

BurkealsoquestionedthetruevalueandtheutilityofRTLS."Frommylimitedexperiencewithradiofrequencydevices,theyareoftennonfunctionalinreality...Itseemssomuchstuffrunsinterferencewiththesystem,suchaswalkie-talkies,otherradiofrequencyequipmentandwirelesscomputersandphones."

IrmaWestmoreland,chairwomanof8,000-memberNationalNursesUnited-VAunion,calledRTLS,whichisalreadyusedinprivatehospitals,dehumanizingtechnologydesignedtoturnhands-onnursingcareinto"roboticcare."Nurses"needtodecidehowlongtheyneedtostaywithapatienttolistentotheirconcernsorholdthehandofadyingpatientorgrievingfamilymember,ratherthanworryingsomeoneistrackinghowlongIaminthisroomand[wonderingif]IwillhavetojustifywhyIdidnotgettothecallbellofMr.Xfastenough,"Westmorelandsaid.

SusanAnderson,presidentofNationalAssociationofGovernmentEmployeeslocalattheMartinsburg,W.Va.,VeteransAffairshospitalandamemberoftheNationalPartnershipCouncil,equatedRTLStrackingfunctionstosystemsusedtomonitorcriminalswhowearelectronicanklebraceletswhileunderhousearrest.VA"wantstodothesamethingtofederalemployees,"shesaid.

ThedepartmentplanstoissuethefinalrequestforproposalsonorbeforeDec.30.


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