Rep. Smith, union weigh in on GDC layoffs

Stephanie Filson Managing Editor

October 12, 2013

GALLIPOLIS — Administrators with the Ohio Department of Developmental Disabilities (DODD) may have expressed their desire to mitigate the effects of the pending elimination of 80 jobs at the Gallipolis Developmental Center (GDC), but representatives from the OCSEA — the union representing the majority of GDC employees — also sat down with The Gallipolis Daily Tribune Wednesday to express their disappointment and deep concern for not only those facing layoffs, but more importantly, those individuals currently being served by GDC. The state’s plan to lay off 80 employees was announced Wednesday to GDC and local media simultaneously.

Ohio DODD Director John L. Martin told The Gallipolis Daily Tribune Wednesday that the decision to downsize the state’s largest developmental center aligns with an ongoing statewide initiative to move away from long-term patient care solutions, focusing instead on short-term admissions whenever possible.

Monty Blanton, OCSEA representative and retired GDC employee, and Mitch Salyers, OCSEA representative and 26-year employee of GDC, expressed their concern for employees and their families following the elimination of 80 GDC positions in January, but their primary focus was on the negative effects of Martin’s initiative on GDC’s most vulnerable population — the individuals served by GDC.

“GDC for the last four or five years has been serving a population that’s one of the hardest there is to serve anywhere in the system, the extremely medically fragile and the extreme behaviorally challenged. That’s our calling now,” said Blanton, “but at the same time, we’ve got residents who’ve been here 50 or 60 years. This is their home, and they’re forcing them out, without any doubt. This is the only family that a lot of these residents have — the employees who’ve been working with them for the last 20 years.

Nationally, every year, large state-operated developmental facilities decrease in client population by about five percent, according to Martin, and there are now 15 states with no state-funded developmental centers at all, including West Virginia, Indiana and Michigan.

Martin said Ohio’s approach has been to keep the doors open and to provide valuable state-funded services but with a focus on short-term solutions followed by reintegration of clientele into the community.

Blanton agreed that community-based programs are successful in some cases, but for many individuals, the transition from long-term care at GDC to group living or community integration can be damaging to the clients’ sometimes fragile physical or mental state.

“The move is not based on what is best for the client. It’s about numbers,” said Blanton. “The department wants to downsize our state facilities to … who knows what? We are down to 106 or 107 individuals [served]. Some of the ones they are moving out now … they can’t really speak for themselves, and many of them have state guardianships.”

Blanton estimated the percentage of state guardianships hovers near 75 percent.

“What we’re supposed to be doing is providing services based on the needs of individuals, and that’s exactly what we’ve done,” said Blanton. “Our staff are better trained than any staff anywhere in the system. We have to be Medicaid-compliant, and we have done that consistently. We are advocates for [those served].

“Of course, you are going to hear, ‘Oh, the union. It’s all about jobs,’” said Blanton. “I worked in that facility for 30 years. I retired from there. Do I want the same opportunity for the employees there? Absolutely. But we have never — not one time have we ever come out and advocated on the backs of just our jobs. It’s always been about services. It’s always been about the rights of individuals.”

Martin emphasized that though GDC is facing a staffing reduction, it is not a reflection of the quality of service GDC provides.

“When folks are in crisis and need intensive evaluation and services, we think our centers can play an important long-term role by providing that kind of service,” said Martin.

“The interesting thing has been that while we have been downsizing [staff], our [statewide] admissions have actually been increasing. That’s unusual when you compare what we’re doing to other states. Most states just freeze admissions and then slowly just phase [the facilities] out,” explained Martin.

Blanton said that the admissions at GDC have, in fact, been frozen, citing the state’s delay in hiring the two positions that, by mandate, are required to be filled in order to reopen admissions — the psychiatrist and psychologist positions.

“That’s hopefully about to change,” said Blanton. He praised Gallia County native Ohio Rep. Ryan Smith (R-Gallipolis) for listening to the concerns of GDC employees, both in regard to jobs and services.

Smith expressed his disappointment in this week’s announcement.

“I am obviously disappointed with the [DODD’s] announcement of a reduction of 80 positions at the GDC.,” said Smith. “While I understand the need to reduce staff after the patient census has been reduced significantly over the last couple of years, I also want to ensure there is enough direct care staff in place to continue to give the high quality care that the clients deserve.

I have been contacted by many of the direct care staff, and they are consistently concerned more about the future of the clients than their own,” added Smith. “Some of their clients are under state guardianship, so the direct care staff is like their family, and it quickly becomes apparent how much they care about them. That is why this announcement is very difficult for so many, both emotionally and economically.

Smith indicated that this issue has been a high priority for his office.

“Over the past 45 days, we have had much discussion about lessening the impact to the families affected by this news,” said Smith. “I am pleased with the fact the Governor’s office understands the employment challenges we face in our area and was therefore willing to offer a two-year early retirement incentive. There are more than 50 people eligible for this program which would help them transition into retirement sooner than expected while also preserving another person’s job.

“My longer term concern is that the admissions are currently frozen mainly because of a lack of a psychiatrist and psychologist on staff. I want the [DODD] to be creative in their recruiting of these specialties so we can begin admitting clients, which will help ensure the long term viability of this institution,” said Smith. “At this point, [Martin] understands I plan to hold [the DODD] accountable for their decisions, and I expect proper justification for their actions. We need to work together to develop a long-term plan to help the clients they serve and continue to have a positive economic impact on this area.”