The state Department of Health and Hospitals is having problems keeping sufficient staff to care for the developmentally disabled living in soon-to-be privatized facilities in Hammond and Bossier City.
The state Civil Service Commission on Wednesday approved providing a $500 incentive payment to employees who stay and meet certain attendance standards in the months leading up to the scheduled Oct. 1 takeover by private entities.
DHH Assistant Secretary Laura Brackin, in justifying the move, said the one-time lump sum payment is needed “to address increased absenteeism, staff turnover and challenges in recruiting during the transition period” from state to private operation.
The one-time estimated cost of the move is just over $500,000, according to documents submitted to Civil Service.
DHH Deputy Secretary Kathy Kliebert downplayed the potential impact on those who live at the North Lake Supports and Services Center in Hammond and the Northwest Supports and Services Center in Bossier City. She said no one’s care is being jeopardized. If there are gaps, employees of nearby resource centers can fill in, she said.
“We did this really as a pre-emptive strike,” Kliebert said. “We just know it’s coming closer with the transition.”
According to DHH, 225 people live at North Lake with a staff of 620.
There are 95 job vacancies today. Since the privatization of the facility was announced, DHH said 122 employees have left the 24-hour residential facility.
At Northwest, 133 people live at the residential facility with a staff of 360. There are currently 60 job vacancies. Forty-seven employees have left since DHH announced the facility would be privatized.
Kliebert said the agency continues to advertise and hire necessary staff on a short-term basis.
DHH is negotiating cooperative endeavor agreements with two nonprofit organizations to operate the facilities — Evergreen Presbyterian Ministries at North Lake and The ARC of Acadiana at Northwest. Kliebert said the privatization is on target to be completed by Oct. 1. “We anticipate in the next several weeks we could have agreement,” she said.
DHH’s Office for Citizens with Developmental Disabilities has not yet filed an employee layoff plan for Civil Service Commission approval. The cooperative endeavor agreement also must pass Civil Service scrutiny, Civil Service Deputy Director Jean Jones said.
Part of the agreement requires the entities to consider retaining current employees, Kliebert said. “We desperately want those employees to stay with the private providers,” she said. Nearly 80 percent have transitioned to the new private provider in a similar facility privatization in Iota, she said.
The $500 lump sum payment would go to all full-time employees of the facilities who are assigned regular scheduled work weeks of 32 to 40 hours who remain employed until the transition. Employees will be eligible if they report to work for an average 24 hours for employees with a 32-hour scheduled work week or 32 hours with a 40-hour scheduled work week.
Kliebert said the $500 is a good incentive for employees who are in the largely low-paying direct care positions. “The $500 bonus is cash money they can get right now,” she said. Besides employee retention, “it helps us with absenteeism. Some of that is normal absenteeism we can avoid,” she said.
Brackin said the $500 will give employees an incentive to stay around for the new providers to come interview them for jobs.