PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — The South Dakota Development Center currently has more than five dozen positions vacant because people can’t be found in the Redfield area to take the jobs, the head of the state Department of Human Services said Tuesday.
Secretary Shawnie Rechtenbaugh said those 65 full-time equivalents that are open include 30 that first-year Governor Kristi Noem wants the Legislature to eliminate this winter, as part of an effort to keep reducing state government’s workforce there that’s continued since the Daugaard administration.
Rechtenbaugh made her remarks to the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Appropriations as part of a high-level look at the department’s budget recommendations before the 2020 session opens January 14.
The Redfield institution has seen 34 FTE eliminated the past four years and currently has 345.6 FTE. Rechtenbaugh said eliminating 30 slots and adding four in other parts of her department would be a net reduction of 26.
She emphasized no one will be losing a job because the positions aren’t filled. The workforce has gradually dropped as the residents at the institution have declined to about 100 now from a peak of about 1,200.
Residents have made transitions to other care settings in communities. “Our focus is always to serve people in the least-restrictive environment,” Rechtenbaugh said. She said 25 cuts would come from the ranks of direct-care professionals while five others would be in a variety of jobs.
One of the Legislature’s longest-serving current members is Representative Jean Hunhoff, a Yankton Republican. She asked whether the duties were being reassigned.
“Certainly over time that would be the case,” Rechtenbaugh answered. She added, “We just find we don’t need as many people to do it.”
Representative Chris Karr, a Sioux Falls Republican who is House chairman for the panel, asked how long the jobs had been empty. Rechtenbaugh said she would get the information for the committee. She said efforts would continue to fill the remaining 35 vacancies if lawmakers make the cut.
Barb Abeln, the center’s director, said everything is individualized for the people who live there. Senator Brock Greenfield, a Clark Republican, said one of his concerns was whether employees would continue to be paid for working overtime. Abeln said they would.
“The workforce issues are long standing at SDDC and Redfield,” Abeln said.
Greenfield said the center served “a vital role” for a vulnerable population.
“We are the most intrusive and restrictive environment in the state of South Dakota,” Abeln responded.