PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — The workforce at the South Dakota Developmental Center in Redfield for people with intellectual or developmental disabilities would be further reduced this summer — at least on paper — under the governor’s budget recommendation.

The proposed cuts of 12 positions come on the heels of losses of 36 positions the past two years and are part of the continued ‘right-sizing’ effort that Human Services Secretary Shawnie Rechtenbaugh laid out Tuesday to the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee.

The center is budgeted for 309.6 full-time equivalent positions this year but used only 264.4 last year and just 289.4 in 2020. Governor Kristi Noem wants to now take the workforce down to the 297.6 that Rechtenbaugh requested.

At the same time, Rechtenbaugh said, two requests for proposals have been issued for small intermediate-care facilities in eastern and western South Dakota.

Negotiations are under way with a provider for the western facility that could have six to 12 beds. But talks with a provider for a similar-sized eastern facility hit a dead end, so a new RFP for it was issued December 28.

Rechtenbaugh said those second proposals are due January 25 and a decision is planned March 31, 2022.

“The long-range plan is to continue providing services at the South Dakota Developmental Center,” Rechtenbaugh assured the committee.

She said state government has been “actively right-sizing” the center since the 1960s when about 1,200 people lived on the campus.

Back then, people were starting to be moved into community settings. In recent years, the limitation has been the declining labor force willing to work at the center.

The center’s patients have gradually dropped in number, falling to 75 last year from 132 in 2016.

“Our best resource, I would tell you, is the fact that we have talented and trained staff in Redfield that do an incredible job, and they are there and available to us. We don’t have 300 people that do this work anywhere else in the state presently,” Rechtenbaugh said.

Rechtenbaugh said Redfield was the only place where South Dakota state government had ever offered adult intermediate-care facility services.

“So wherever you live in, whatever corner of the state you lived in, your only opportunity is to move your child, your family member, to Redfield. And in some places of course that can be a four-hour drive one way to see them,” she said.

“So we were looking at, can we offer this service on a smaller scale and a regional basis? Would that be a good thing for the people that we’re serving and it’s a thing we were asked to do and can we provide that? And then additionally, because we’re dealing with workforce issues at Redfield, we know we can’t continue to take care of a hundred people in Redfield. So it was kind of two-fold; they (regional centers) also assist us with that.”

Representative Chris Karr asked what the state Department of Human Services plans if an agreement can’t be reached with a vendor in March.

Replied Rechtenbaugh, “Well, I hope that’s not the case, certainly. We don’t plan to not implement the service. But if that happens, then we have to go back to the drawing board and figure out why.”

She said the department a year ago issued a request for information that drew “at least six responses” that became a guide for issuing the first RFP. But she also noted “the landscape has changed a lot” — meaning the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects on the U.S. economy — “so ideally is this the best time to be doing anything new? Probably not. But it still needs to be done.”

The eastern facility doesn’t have to be in Sioux Falls and could be in Brookings or Watertown or Yankton or Vermillion, Rechtenbaugh said.

Senator Reynold Nesiba quoted figures from the committee’s budget book that showed the average cost per patient at the center rose 22% in the past three years, from about $260,000 annually to about $317,000.

Nesiba said state government has “an essential responsibility” to provide services to the patients at the center. “I don’t think there’s anybody working in Redfield who’s making too much money. So I’m grateful to the workers who continue to show up there. I just think we want to have some sense of — these seem like really big numbers, per patient, per day — and to have some comparables to see how we are doing compared to other states. That would be helpful.”

Representative Linda Duba asked why negotiations broke down on the eastern facility.

Rechtenbaugh said the negotiations are confidential until the contract is released. “So the most I should say about it is, it’s just related to programmatic and fiscal, as we were having those discussions. It was with that one provider. We’re continuing on with the other provider (for the western facility) and we expect to have a contract in place.”

Duba asked if the potential vendor for the western facility was having similar concerns. “No,” Rechtenbaugh said.

Duba then asked what happens if the attempt for an eastern facility isn’t successful. Replied Rechtenbaugh, “Well, the funds are already identified for this project, so our plan is to contract with an east river and a west river provider. If that doesn’t happen, the dollars would revert (go back). We can’t take them and use them for anything else and we would not do that. So this is the project that it’s for.”

Rechtenbaugh stressed that having two new places wouldn’t mean a person couldn’t go to Redfield.

Karr sounded unconvinced. “What is the long-term plan? How are we making these decisions? What are we basing it off of?” he said. “I don’t have a firm answer, at this moment, on how that’s happening.”