OKLAHOMA CITY - Two state Senators are asking questions about the funding priorities at the State Department of Mental Health. That's after the board created a new position for their former commissioner, while laying off more than 100 state employees at Eastern State Hospital.
The downsizing was part of a plan to contain costs at Eastern State Hospital. Seventy state workers will be forced to leave their jobs March 1, while 43 others will follow in July.
"While over a hundred employees are being downsized to save money, DMHSAS created a special position for former Commissioner Sharron Boehler. They're going to pay her $80 thousand dollars to oversee the process. They've created a golden parachute for a bureaucrat, while the people who are in the trenches doing the real work are losing their jobs," said Senator Rick Littlefield, D-Grove.
Senator Jim Dunlap joined Senator Littlefield in his criticism of the move, calling the DMHSAS decision unconscionable.
"Workers being laid off next week are going to lose their longevity pay, retirement benefits and more. They certainly are at least as deserving as the former director, but they and their families will simply be left struggling to find work and put food on the table," said Dunlap, R-Bartlesville.
Senator Littlefield pointed out that state employees and the community of Vinita have cared for the mentally ill for almost a century.
"The loss of these jobs will cut deeply into the economy of this area. These employees and the community have sacrificed so that the funds could be spent on the clients, not additional administration," commented Littefield.
"Surely there are existing administrators within the department who could perform the job of overseeing the downsizing of Eastern State Hospital without creating a new position. If the funding picture is so bad that over a hundred workers must be laid off, then how can DMHSAS even consider creating an $80 thousand dollar job just so Sharron Boehler can get full retirement benefits later on," said Senator Dunlap.