February 6, 2013 —
The Sullivan County Legislature, at a meeting on February 1, gave department heads permission to fill about 50 vacant positions that are considered critical for the smooth functioning of county government. The legislature changed the hiring policy because of the recession so that every new hire had to be approved by the legislature.
But this leaves some departments short-staffed for periods of time, specifically in areas such as the Division of Health and Family Services (DFS). Randy Parker, the commissioner of DFS, said that because of the nature of the work, his department could expect 15% to 20% turnover of personnel every year.
He said residents who come in for DFS services, “come in sometimes with every single thing they own, they come in because they don’t have food to provide to their family that night, they come in because they don’t have heat, and it’s 15 below last week; these are folks that without DFS services they may die or may be seriously injured.”
He said the positions presented to the legislature to be filled were essential and they were also included in the 2013 budget.
Joseph Todora, the director of Community Services, which is a department within DFS that provides mental health services, said sometimes short-staffing costs the county revenue. He said, “The problem that you have sometimes with some of our support positions is that they may look like they cost you county money… but we need those support staff positions because if I don’t get the bill out on time and correctly, we’re not going to get that revenue that we’re owed. And right now, my support staff are so low that when we get a denial from Medicaid or Medicare, Blue Cross, Blue Shield, whoever, it’s very difficult for us to go back and do the research and resubmit that bill because we barely have enough staff to keep up with the 90-or-30 day turnaround.”
Carol Ryan, the director of public health, which is also a department within DFS, said “The way that it’s been so bare-bones, you can’t really cover when somebody is out sick, and this happens, you’re kind of in trouble… and when you have that and you can’t fill a position that becomes empty, there are consequences.”
The legislature eventually agreed to allow the department heads to go forward with filling the positions they deemed necessary in their divisions within DFS. Also some seasonal temporary hires were approved within the Department of Public Works.