Between 2007 and 2011, MSOCS cut front-line staffing by 149 people, nearly 11 percent. The cuts came even though the number of clients rose by 5 percent in the group homes and day training and habilitation centers that MSOCS runs.
But cuts seem to have bottomed out; since July 2011, MSOCS has added 33 full-time, front-line positions. Nonetheless, of the 1,120 AFSCME members who work in MSOCS, only 17 percent now work full-time.
Deputy DHS commissioner Anne Barry says the Legislature’s “enterprise” mandate – which forces DHS operations to break even financially – leaves little choice. “We really do have to manage them differently,” Barry says. “Some of that may mean part-time workers.”
Workers face gaps in coverage
“There really are no set shifts,” says Local 607’s JoAnn Holton. “You could be working as little as three hours a day. It’s whatever the needs of the homes are.”
Workers in group homes typically work straight shifts, with no breaks or lunch built in. In many homes, workers say, it’s also common to post schedules with open shifts – which means nobody is scheduled to work – and with no overlap between shifts.
Workers don’t even get time to consult about clients with co-workers on the next shift, Holton says. “Most of us do it on our own time. We donate our time because we care about the clients. We want to make sure the guys are taken care of.”
Open shifts are a different challenge. If no one volunteers, it can mean whoever already is on duty has to pull a double shift. That can mean working up to 20 hours straight, Local 390’s Cindy Yund says. “That opens the door to more injuries, medication errors, policy violations.”
With single staffing, workers have no help if they are supposed to shovel snow outside, yet monitor clients inside at the same time. They have no help if they need to lift or move residents – some of whom may be in wheelchairs. They have no back-up if a resident runs away, a common trait among people the homes care for. They have no back-up in an emergency.
“We all understand about the budget, but we need staff,” says Sheila Blokzyl, of Local 701.
“We’re not successful if we don’t have the staffing levels we need to give the treatment they need,” says Laura Hagen, of Local 607.