Health Care

32 State Reps call on Governor McKee to address DHS staffing crisis

“What exists now is a narrative from DHS that vacancies are being filled, but in reality, vacancies were intentionally kept vacant until January 2022, and in the last few months we have merely seen some chairs getting shuffled on the Titanic’s deck, while the total number of DHS staff actually declined.”
Photo for 32 State Reps call on Governor McKee to address DHS staffing crisis

Published on May 27, 2022
By Steve Ahlquist

32 Rhode Island State Representatives signed onto a letter to Governor Daniel McKee asking him to fill 114 vacancies at the Department of Human Services (DHS). The letter was signed by legislators representing a wide range of political views, from both conservative and progressive Democrats to Republicans such as Minority Leader Blake Filippi. The letter was released by SEIU Local 580, the union representing many of the workers at the understaffed agency.

Uprise RI first reported on the understaffing back in February, when DHS employees held a press conference to address their concerns. See: Unfilled staff vacancies, ongoing mismanagement causing severe problems at DHS. Since then, the situation has worsened.

In February, “Backlogs due to vacancies at DHS have caused a lack of access to vital resources for Rhode Island’s most vulnerable children, families and elderly, including delays to obtaining SNAP benefits for food security, child care benefits, health insurance coverage, and cash assistance to meeting basic needs during the bone-chilling winter months, amongst the COVID-19 pandemic,” said SEIU Local 580 President Matthew Gunnip. Since then DHS has lost 11 more workers.

State Senator Samuel Bell to to Twitter on Thursday to criticize McKee’s handling of the DHS staff vacancies, tied the intentional understaffing at DHS to state efforts to cut Medicaid. Senator Bell’s Twitter thread is well worth a read.

At his press conference on Thursday, Governor McKee claimed to be unaware of Senator Bell’s Twitter thread, saying that his administration has spent “a great deal of time understanding the issues that we’re working with there.” The Governor said that he’s “comfortable and confident that we’re heading in the right direction at DHS.”

The letter from members of the Rhode Island House of Representatives strikes a much less comfortable and confident stance regarding DHS, saying that the staffing vacancies “are endangering Rhode Island’s most vulnerable populations…

“What exists now is a narrative from DHS that vacancies are being filled, but in reality, vacancies were intentionally kept vacant until January 2022, and in the last few months we have merely seen some chairs getting shuffled on the Titanic’s deck, while the total number of DHS staff actually declined.”

Here’s Governor McKee answering questions from The Providence Journal‘s Katherine Gregg:


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You can read the letter here:

Dear Governor Daniel J. McKee:

The Department of Human Services (DHS) is responsible for ensuring that critical benefits and services are efficiently and effectively delivered to more than 300,000 adults, children, the elderly, and individuals with disabilities.

DHS reported to the House Oversight Committee on February 17, 2022 that there were 978 funded positions at the agency, but only 875 were filled as of January 2022. Ten weeks later, on April 23, 2022, the total number of filled DHS positions reported to legislature was 864. This means a net loss of 11 positions since January 2022 and a net total of 114 funded positions that were vacant.

Frontline positions that went vacant as far back as April 24, 2020 (more than two years ago!) were not advertised until January 19, 2022. Neither the COVID-19 pandemic nor early retirements and other attrition can explain this shocking lack of urgency.

We, the undersigned members of the Rhode Island House of Representatives, are respectfully calling upon Governor Daniel J. McKee to create a transparent, public, and collaborative action plan to fill all funded frontline positions by June 2, 2022 and thus help alleviate the untenable workloads and backlogs at DHS, which are endangering Rhode Island’s most vulnerable populations. Such a plan needs to include a new strategy, that is specific and concrete, to ensure that new staff are recruited and onboarded efficiently and effectively, and that all staff are managed competently, so once a net increase in total frontline DHS employees is achieved, it can be sustained over time. What exists now is a narrative from DHS that vacancies are being filled, but in reality, vacancies were intentionally kept vacant until January 2022, and in the last few months we have merely seen some chairs getting shuffled on the Titanic’s deck, while the total number of DHS staff actually declined.

On February 17, 2022, outgoing Acting DHS Director Celia Blue testified that an infusion of 90 more frontline positions was needed to adequately deliver services. We call upon Governor Daniel McKee to submit an amended budget proposal as recommended by former DHS Acting Director Blue and provide funding for 90 additional frontline positions at DHS, above and beyond the critical vacancies that exist now, which Acting Director Blue stated were needed to meet federal mandates and to properly resource DHS.

Sincerely,

  • District 1 Representative Edith H. Ajello
  • District 4 Representative Rebecca M. Kislak
  • District 7 Representative David Morales
  • District 10 Representative Scott Slater
  • District 16 Representative Brandon C. Potter
  • District 18 Representative Arthur Handy
  • District 20 Representative David A. Bennett
  • District 25 Representative Thomas E. Noret
  • District 27 Representative Patricia A. Serpa
  • District 28 Representative George A. Nardone
  • District 31 Representative Julie A. Casimiro
  • District 36 Representative Blake A. Filippi
  • District 39 Representative Justin Price
  • District 40 Representative Michael W. Chippendale
  • District 41 Representative Robert J. Quattrocchi
  • District 42 Representative Edward T. Cardillo, Jr.
  • District 43 Representative Deborah A. Fellela
  • District 47 Representative David J. Place
  • District 48 Representative Brian C. Newberry
  • District 55 Representative Arthur J. Corvese
  • District 56 Representative Joshua J. Giraldo
  • District 59 Representative Jean Philippe Barros
  • District 60 Representative Karen Alzate
  • District 61 Representative Leonela Felix
  • District 62 Representative Mary D. Messier
  • District 64 Representative Brianna E. Henries
  • District 65 Representative Gregg Amore
  • District 66 Representative Liana Cassar
  • District 68 Representative June Speakman
  • District 69 Representative Susan R. Donovan
  • District 71 Representative Michelle E. McGaw
  • District 72 Representative Terri Cortvriend

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