Staff turnover high, county agency says

JOHNSTOWN – Longtime Fulton County Department of Social Services Commissioner Sheryda Cooper can’t recall a time when staff turnover at her department was as high as it is now.

Cooper said public-assistance cases are increasing in certain areas, and she wants county supervisors to be aware of her staffing situation.

“Right now, there doesn’t seem to be much light at the end of the tunnel,” Cooper said at Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors’ Human Services Committee. “But we’ll get there.”

She said part of the reason for the record turnover in her department, which employs more than 140 people, is the state’s gradual takeover of Medicaid administration. She said some people are leaving their county jobs to take jobs with the state, but she still needs those employees at the county agency.

Cooper, who started with the county in 1978, said she will present 10 potential vacancies to be filled by the county Finance Committee on Thursday.

Last November, Cooper said her department could lose more than half of its staff members who handle Medicaid cases because they want jobs with the state.

The state will take over Medicaid administration from localities by 2018. A 2011 state law ordered transfer of responsibility for administration of Medicaid from local DSS districts to the state Department of Health by March 31, 2018.

Cooper told supervisors Tuesday she is in a staffing “predicament.”

She said she had six staff members from her

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14-member DSS Medicaid Unit leave for state jobs. Another three retired, she said.

“These are jobs you just don’t step in and do in a week,” Cooper said.

She said some workers have left to go back to school. There also is a clerical turnover, with staff leaving and moving to higher-paying positions, she said.

Luckily, she said, she has a “viable” list to draw from for potential caseworkers.

“This has left various new staff there,” Cooper said. “We have a new staff that doesn’t know the program.”

She said she has seven caseworkers with less than one year of experience. She said DSS is losing a large “knowledge base” with people leaving. She said much training is done internally, which takes a great effort to bring new workers “up to par.”

Cooper said personnel changes have left DSS struggling to deal with various caseloads, especially in the temporary assistance and child protective areas, as well as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which used to be known as Food Stamps.

She said the SNAP program in Fulton County involves more than 4,000 cases. She also said the Home Energy Assistance Program starts Nov. 18.

Cooper said her department has 274 interviews and 728 temporary assistance and SNAP cases pending.

Through Sept. 17, DSS had 666 Medicaid cases pending, 163 other various assistance cases and 56 chronic-care cases pending.

Michael Anich covers Johnstown and Fulton County news. He can be reached at [email protected].

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