Human services staff shortage hits ‘record level’

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Of the. Kirill Reznik (D-Montgomery), chairman of the House Appropriations Committee’s health and human services subcommittee, says the Department of Human Services’ vacancy rate reflects a “crisis-level staffing shortage” in the entire executive branch. Screenshot.

Agency employees said they reached a breaking point on Wednesday as the Department of Human Services reports a record staff shortage.

Approximately 15% of authorized positions are currently vacant.

According to Grace Pedersen of the Department of Legislative Services, the agency recorded an “unprecedented” vacancy rate on Jan. 1, comparing data from the past decade.

The Department of Social Services has lost more than 300 staff since 2020. Currently, there are more than 250 vacancies for more than a year and 20 open positions that have been cut entirely, according to legislative analysts.

The Department of Social Services is the state’s primary social service provider, administering financial assistance and support programs for children and vulnerable adults.

At a news conference hosted by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 3 on Wednesday morning, chapter president Patrick Moran said the department is “sending money back to the state.” despite growing needs.

Monique Boyd, a union member and certified social worker with the Baltimore City Department of Social Services’ Child Protective Services, said cases of child abuse have skyrocketed since schools reopened.

Boyd said his agency is “losing workers as fast as we can hire them,” attributing the vacancies to skyrocketing workloads, low pay, poor working conditions and “unrealistic expectations, among others”.

Pedersen said complaints of child abuse in Maryland have declined, possibly because children have been exposed to fewer mandatory reporters like teachers, doctors and social workers during the pandemic.

Lourdes R. Padilla, the secretary of the Department of Social Services, told subcommittee members that reports of abuse have now returned to pre-pandemic levels.

Asked what the agency is doing to address the staffing shortage, Padilla told House Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Kirill Reznik (D-Montgomery) that the administration of the social services of the department followed the Child Welfare League of America Workload Standards.

According to Padilla, an analysis determined that the agency needed 1,129 social workers in 2021, which the department exceeded by 285 employees.

In a press release on Tuesday, Boyd said she and her colleagues “carry 24 to 28 cases” – “triples” the standards of the Child Welfare League of America.

Padilla said some jurisdictions have a surplus of social workers while others have vacancies.

AFSCME Maryland chapter secretary-treasurer Cherrish Vick said shortages in Baltimore are so severe that the administration is pulling child welfare social workers from surrounding jurisdictions and paying them $5 bonuses. $000.

According to Vick, social workers originally assigned to Baltimore will not receive the same bonuses. She called it another example of the Hogan administration “continuing to rob Peter to pay Paul to meet staffing needs.”

“Those are the types of decisions the administration is making right now,” she said. “All workers deserve to be paid what they are worth and to be treated with dignity and respect.”

Acknowledging “the big resignation” caused by the pandemic, Padilla also said she was considering alternative work configurations, such as the continuation of telecommuting and hybrid operations, for employees in the department and asked her human resources department to carry out an “aggressive” hiring campaign.

Reznik said at Wednesday’s press conference that the agency’s vacancy rate is “not a function of ‘the big resignation’ or COVID or the economy or any other excuse.”

“The administration has repeatedly failed to address this crisis-level staffing shortage, both … at DHS and in a number of agencies: corrections, labor, health – you name it,” did he declare. “These workers know it and my colleagues in the General Assembly know it.”

Reznik said Maryland’s $4 billion budget surplus is “primarily the result of action at the federal level … and because of the negligence we’ve seen over the past seven years when it comes to staffing shortages.” and money that was saved by failing to staff people and pay them properly.

Michael Ricci, spokesman for Governor Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R), said in an email exchange Wednesday afternoon that the surplus was attributable to “prudent fiscal decisions and economic growth.”

When asked if any of the excess funds will go to recruiting or retaining employees, Ricci pointed to the governor’s “Re-Fund the Police” initiative, appropriations in his 2023 budget proposal for increases salary of correctional officers and its “five point plan” for spending the surplus that was released in October

“Delivering on this proposal, the Governor’s FY23 budget provides generous pay increases and bonuses for state employees totaling more than $850 million,” he said.

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