GALLIPOLIS — Officials with the Ohio Department of Developmental Disabilities said Friday they are eliminating 32 full-time positions from the Gallipolis Developmental Center.
The positions, officials said, are part of a plan to streamline the workforce with the number of clients the Gallipolis facility serves. At present, officials said the workforce in Gallipolis doesn’t match with the number of people who live at the facility. Although 32 full-time positions will be eliminated by the first week of December, the state plans to turn 18 of those positions into part-time opportunities.
According to John Martin, director of the Ohio Department of Developmental Disabilities, GDC employees may have the option to stay on as part-time workers. The layoffs are expected to go into effect Dec. 10.
“We had to deliver some very difficult news (Friday morning) at the Gallipolis Developmental Center,” Martin said. “We have, simply put, more staff than we need for the number of folks who live there. So, we made an announcement around 10 (a.m.).”
Martin said along with the position changes, the state is offering an early retirement buyout. Martin said he believes 36 members of GDC staff would qualify, if they choose to take that option.
“We want to make the operation as efficient as possible and have the right number of staff for the right number of folks who live there,” he said. “It’s hard. These are dedicated (employees) who are good people and it’s a difficult message for us to have to deliver.”
Martin said that regionally, West Virginia does not have state facilities like Ohio’s GDC, and neither does Indiana and Michigan.
“In Ohio, we still see a role for the centers,” he said. “They are becoming smaller, but we still feel they play a critical role in our service delivery system. Often, they are handling complex individuals. Something we’re trying to emphasize is we’re not here to close the center and that’s not what our intent is.”
Martin said some of the decisions to be made with GDC’s transition may still be up in the air as union workers will come to negotiate. The director said the state department would do the best it could to keep employees aware of job openings that fit their qualifications. The department will also work with Gallia office of the Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services and job fairs to keep individuals informed of career opportunities.
The elimination of jobs is not due to budgetary issues, but in an attempt to streamline staff. Currently, before employee cutbacks take place, GDC has 192 employees and 53 clients it serves.
Martin said GDC is moving toward a temporary care facility for individuals experiencing a crisis in their lives and will handle serious care needs.
“Somebody could be at home with mom and dad and go into crisis or they could be in a group home and go into crisis,” Martin said. “They come into our centers. We do crisis stabilization and then follow them back into the community and support them there. That’s been one of the transitions that we have done.”
Since 2009, facilities like GDC have seen a gradual reduction in clients due to aggressive effort to enforce the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Olmstead v. L.C. According to www.ada.gov, the ruling required states to “eliminate unnecessary segregation of persons with disabilities and to ensure that persons with disabilities received services in the most integrated setting appropriate to their needs.”
GDC’s role has been scaled back in state developmental care. The facility, in the past, has been considered to be a major employer in the Ohio Valley region. Since that time, many former GDC workers have moved on. The facility had a maximum population of more than 1,500 people in its lifetime and the location had served as an American Civil War hospital, as well as an epileptic hospital before serving as the area’s developmental center.
GDC superintendent Margaret Mossbarger previously told the Tribune three years ago the facility had 300 residents.
A few years ago, a contentious battle erupted between local residents and the state over previous GDC cutbacks. Gov. John Kasich made an appearance at Rio Grande in early 2014 and local residents protested his appearance.
After July of this year, eight centers like GDC exist throughout Ohio. GDC serves Pickaway, Ross, Pike, Scioto, Hocking, Vinton, Jackson, Lawrence, Gallia, Meigs, Athens and Washington counties. The state agency has announced it is closing two other facilities in the state.
Many individuals like GDC’s residents have been moving into private residential care communities like the ResCare facility in Rio Grande.
State officials are still in the talks with undisclosed organizations as to what will happen with GDC residential cottages. Zach Haughawout, communications and legislation representative with the Ohio Department of Developmental Disabilities, said ideally he thinks the buildings are best outfitted to services providing residential care and such organizations looking to provide those services would be considered first to make use of the cottages.
Union members Monty Blanton, staff representative with Ohio Civil Service Employment Association, Rosetta Wells, current GDC employee and vice president of the OCSEA Gallipolis Chapter 2710, had strong feelings about the news.
Wells has worked at the institution for 24 years and Blanton worked there for a number of years before transitioning to being the staff representative for OCSEA in Gallipolis. Both feel Kasich and Martin have broken a promise that layoffs would not continue when budgets were being reviewed last year as two other developmental centers in Ohio were being closed. GDC had suffered a pair of previous layoffs in 2010 and 2013. The current number of layoffs totals 148.
Both Blanton and Wells said they feel any retirement buyout is not going to be received well by workers as they don’t believe the money will be enough for workers upon which to live.
“We have facilities across the states busting at the seams serving this population (individuals with developmental disabilities),” Blanton said. “The individuals’ families we are currently serving are only moving their loved ones because they’re being told there is no security, that their family member can’t be maintained at GDC and able to live there.”
Blanton told the Times-Sentinel there had been talks previously with GDC about potentially serving a new client base that involved individuals with both mental health problems and developmental disabilities. Then workers were reportedly informed of layoffs.
Blanton and Wells say they intend to fight for GDC’s clients and jobs. The pair feel that continued layoffs ultimately endanger the care of their clients and the clients have done just as well or better in GDC’s environment than private community settings. Blanton said some clients need more intensive and focused long-term care in a facility that is housed with doctors, psychiatrists and professionals geared toward their needs.
“We’re going to fight this as long as we can,” Blanton said. “(We) expect there will be community involvement and people will rally together to challenge the layoffs because it’s about the clients and their care. It’s not just about jobs. At some point in time, everyone in this community has been touched by that facility (GDC).”
GDC members have often claimed residents of the facilities were like their family because of spending “years” with them.
Dean Wright can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2103. Michael Johnson contributed to this story.