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Politics & Government

DHSS hopes pay increases will address worker shortages and burnout

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Milton Pratt
/
Delaware Public Media

The Delaware Department of Health and Social Services joins the chorus of state agencies trying to attract workers back into government work.

State lawmakers on the budget-writing Joint Finance Committee are spending their last week of budget hearings with DHSS’s various departments, and their $32 million budget increase requested for next year..

The department, like many others, faces high rates of staff vacancies, especially amongst its lowest paid positions. Secretary Molly Margarik says currently almost a quarter of positions agency-wide are vacant.

“We are losing people to Amazon,” she says. “It used to be maybe the skilled clinicians type jobs; but we’re seeing supervisors, managers. We’re seeing people leave for the private sector and it’s creeping up in pay grades, it’s not just the lower pay grade employees.”

Magarik says many workers who remain now face higher than ever levels of burnout as they juggle multiple priorities at once.

She’s happy to see the new proposed pay increase for state employees introduced by Gov. John Carney, which raises salaries the most for the lowest paid state workers.

Some lawmakers also wonder if raising pay for these workers will also bring savings elsewhere, such as reducing the need for state assistance through Medicaid or food stamps.

The Delaware Division for the Visually Impaired also spent a significant amount of time with the Joint Finance Committee Tuesday discussing increasing levels of turnover and vacancies in the department.

The department, which provides critical services to visually impaired students across the state, currently has 16 teachers, serving 300 students across the state.

State Rep. Kim Williams expresses frustration at the ongoing challenge of providing access to learning to students with disabilities.

“My concern is that we keep having these conversations and I keep hearing that they’re not receiving the services,” Williams says. “And this isn’t directed at either one of you, it’s just been an ongoing issue for the last decade. And I just wanna come up with something, a solution where they feel like their needs are being met, the services are there.”

Williams says while a ratio of 20 to one might seem great, the fact of the matter is these teachers are driving to various schools all day, and students may only get an hour with a teacher who can cater to their needs every day.

Her comments were echoed by State Sen. Dave Lawson, who adds part of the problem is the system for providing access to these teachers comes through this division and the Department of Education.

He believes there should be a single point of access for these services.

Roman Battaglia is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.