Maryland Department of Health Annual Staffing Meeting 2019: Union Members Hold Management Accountable for Failure to Safely Staff Facilities

Yesterday, July 31st, 2019 AFSCME Maryland members sat down with Maryland Department of Health Secretary Robert Neall for the Annual Staffing Meeting. Our union contract allows for an annual meeting with the Agency Secretaries to discuss staffing concerns and engage on the personnel budget. Senator Guy Guzzone and Delegate Kirill Reznik were also present as Legislators who Chair the legislative committees which oversee the Maryland Department of Health budget. 

AFSCME Maryland represents nearly 3,285 members in the Maryland Department of Health (MDH) and roughly 20,000 total in the state’s executive branch. In the MDH, our members perform an array of jobs statewide. These jobs range from providing nursing care to our most vulnerable in hospital and clinic settings, clerical and building maintenance support, processing vital records like birth certificates and assisting other clients at the local health departments with programs like Maternity Care, MCHIP, WIC, and Disease treatment and prevention, licensure and investigations for health occupations, regulating nursing homes, testing water samples, investigating non-natural deaths and performing autopsies, to providing therapy and other clinical support to Maryland’s addicted, chronically ill, mentally ill and/or developmentally disabled residents who have no other options when it comes to receiving this level of care. 

Much has been published in recent years on the critical need in Maryland for the services the MDH provides; state psychiatric hospitals and centers for the developmentally disabled continue to struggle with maintaining enough beds to service and care for the population admitted through our criminal justice system, the need for drug treatment services is at an all-time high, and multiple years of PIN reductions, across-the-board spending cuts, and high vacancy and turnover rates have left most of our MDH facilities and offices running at dangerously low levels. As of July 3, 2019, our MDH unit had a 17% vacancy rate, with the majority of those vacancies (92% of 662 total) occurring in critical positions in the state facilities and local health departments. 

Secretary Neall committed to visiting all MDH facilities and health departments in the coming months. He claims to be looking into issues but we’re tired of waiting for studies. It’s time for action. Our safety and our truth can’t wait. 

In 2007, one of our members at Spring Grove Hospital was killed as a result of a patient repeatedly kicking his chest. Little has changed for our members since then in terms of pay, staffing, and training. Being regularly required to work the equivalent of a whole extra week each month, and not knowing from day-to-day if you’ll get home in time or in one piece, is causing significant burnout, safety, and retention issues. For our members, and Marylanders who rely on these services, we want to see the MDH act with the level of seriousness these issues deserve.