DCF to axe 500 jobs, with three mental hospitals likely to absorb bulk of cutsby John Kennedy | May 23rd, 2011
Gov. Rick Scott unsuccessfully tried to privatize Florida’s three remaining state mental hospitals.
But Monday, those same facilities in Gainesville, Chattahoochee and Macclenny look like they’re going to absorb the brunt of some 500 layoffs planned by the Department of Children and Families to cover a $48 million agency reduction, included in the $69.7 billion budget now before Scott.
DCF Secretary David Wilkins sent a memo to the agency’s 13,000 employees Monday outlining the effort to spare “front-line” employees “who are acting as first responders for children, adults and families in need.”
“However, we have many opportunities to improve our administrative operations. By consolidating many back office services, improving automation and simplifying many of our processes,” he added.
The layoffs are expected to take place by June 30, Wilkins pointed out. That’s the end of the state budget year.
Scott’s push to privatize the facilities never gained strength with lawmakers. Senate Health and Human Services budget chairman Joe Negron, R-Stuart, was deluged with testimony from residents and workers in the mostly rural communities housing the three hospitals.
Most warned that the effort could lead to job cuts which could devastate the fragile economies. A similar argument is still being leveled at the Scott administration from Palm Beach County officials fearing the planned closure of Glades Correctional Institution in one of the most economically strapped areas of the state.
Jackson County Chamber of Commerce president Art Kimbrough told senators earlier this year that Florida State Hospital in nearby Chattahoochee was the region’s biggest employer.
“We know we have to receive our share of budget cuts,” he said. “But this is not the result of bloated government.”
In his budget proposal, Scott recommended wholesale state layoffs and a sharp increase in Florida’s privatization efforts. Lawmakers distanced themselves from much of Scott’s plan — but did agree to privatize prisons in Florida’s 18 southernmost counties, including Palm Beach and the Treasure Coast, leaving in limbo more than 3,000 state jobs.
In addition to privatizing the three mental hospitals, Scott also wanted to turn over to vendors three centers for the developmentally disabled and six veterans homes. He planned to shift 1,500 inmates to privately run facilities, while also closing two prisons — one of which has since been identified as Glades Correctional Institution.