State Workers

DSHS division cuts 160 jobs

OLYMPIA - A division of a state agency with its headquarters downtown eliminated 160 positions Thursday as lawmakers continue to seek ways to eliminate the state's $2.9 billion revenue shortfall.

The Health and Recovery Services Administration, a division of the state Department of Social and Health Services, made the cuts in the state Medicaid program, spokesman Jim Stevenson said.

Twenty of the 160 positions will be eliminated through retirements and unfilled vacancies; the rest will come from layoffs affecting 140 employees, he said. The layoffs were announced Thursday afternoon, and Doug Porter, assistant secretary for HRSA, issued a statement about the decision-making behind them.

“Our philosophy about budget cuts throughout this biennium has been that we must be realistic and do less with less,” Porter said. “These were difficult decisions, but HRSA staff has been resilient and tenacious despite the hardships we faced over the past year. You have absorbed unpleasant cuts and soldiered on, continuing to serve clients and providers as best you could.”

Layoff seminars will be set up today on the first floor of the Cherry Street Plaza, and the agency will do all it can to help affected employees find new positions, Porter said.

“We encourage you to use the resources available with our human resources staff to help deal with this situation,” he said.

Spokesman Stevenson added that the 140 layoffs will be processed over several weeks. The Medicaid program employs 719 people, he said. Medicaid provides health care to about 1 million low-income Washington residents through a state and federal partnership, Stevenson said. About 60 percent of recipients are children, followed by families, those with disabilities and senior citizens. The program also includes 75,000 clients who receive family-planning benefits but no major medical coverage, he said..

Jonathan Stair, who was outside Cherry Street Plaza on a break Thursday afternoon after the cuts were announced, said 23 jobs were eliminated in his department, the division of rates and finance.

Stair, whose job was not affected, said he and his co-workers learned of the changes in a 40-minute meeting in which supervisors explained what had happened and remained on hand to answer questions. Stair described the meeting as a “calming of the waters” and said they were told to be respectful to those who had lost their jobs.

“Don’t poke or pry, but be sensitive,” Stair said of the message employees were given. He said the mood of the meeting was somber and that the agency had taken steps to reduce its overhead costs before cutting jobs.

“You never want it to get down to bodies,” he said. Stair has been in the division of rates and finance for eight years and works on a Medicaid payment system, he said.

“We are not alone in these matters,” Porter said in his statement. “Most areas of state government are facing additional cuts, including the rest of the department. Other agencies will face their own cuts.”

Rolf Boone: 360-754-5403