The Delaware Department of Health and Social Services is moving 25 employees from the Blue Hen Corporate Center at the end of this month.
But the relocation to a new space in Dover comes at least two years after employees first complained of health problems related to mold in some areas of the building.
DHSS signed a lease for office space with Pettinaro Property Management at the Blue Hen Corporate Center in January 2015.
But it broke that lease in June of this year when the situation with the mold came to head in May after a state worker sent her bosses a picture of her mouse pad covered with mold.
Employees started documenting health problems attributed to mold in the summer of 2016. Symptoms included itchy, swollen eyes, blurred vision, sore throats, skin rashes and headaches. At least 11 employees have filed workers’ compensation claims.
Lisa Bond, director of management services with DHSS, said in hindsight, it would have been nice to have been able to move to another space sooner.
“But I don’t think we would have been able to get out of the lease because we wouldn’t have been able to demonstrate that you know we had given Pettinaro enough time to fix the problem,” she said.
Pettinaro attempted to fix the situation by cleaning the office and adding dehumidifiers after complaints of mold on furniture and equipment in Fall 2016.
But a November 2017 air quality test found high mold levels in one office and moderate to low levels in other offices and common areas.
Mike Svaby, director of Facilities Management for the state of Delaware, said the company agreed to let DHSS out of the lease in June without a termination fee, saving the state $910,000 dollars.
“We told them there were people going to doctors, getting doctors’ excuses about things that were bothering them and I think he considered it in his best interest as we did to just work as partners and to move on,” he said."
CEO Greg Pettinaro said he wasn’t aware of any state employee health problems. He adds that his company took additional steps to replace the HVAC system and address humidity issues.
“And at the end of the day, the employees that worked there were still a little jittery I guess so we let them out of the lease," he said. "I don’t know what else we could have done.”
State workers say their time at Blue Hen has been traumatizing and exhausting. And they will fear for their health for years to come.