Bangor psychiatric hospital to lay off 45 employees in effort to close budget gap

The Dorothea Dix Psychiatric Center in Bangor.
Gabor Degre | BDN
The Dorothea Dix Psychiatric Center in Bangor. Buy Photo
By Nick McCrea, BDN Staff
Posted March 13, 2012, at 12:54 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — Dorothea Dix Psychiatric Center notified 45 employees Monday that their jobs will be eliminated, Superintendent Linda Abernethy announced Tuesday.

In all, the hospital plans to cut 91 positions, about half of which were unfilled because of funding concerns, according to Abernethy.

“We have spent the last year trying to hold every vacancy as people left or retired,” Abernethy said during a press conference. “The intent was to try to impact as few people as possible in the layoff.”

The lost jobs run the gamut from medical staff to groundskeepers, but the bulk of the departing employees are mental health care practitioners because they make up the largest class of staff, Abernethy said.

Dorothea Dix has been trying to close a large budget gap that resulted from a $2.5 million cut in state funding, which was approved by the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee in 2011. Dorothea Dix officials were told they had to cut that amount from their budget. The cut will also lead to a loss of federal funds.

The layoffs are no surprise and were predicted during the 2011 fall budgeting process. Some officials involved in efforts to reinstate funding for the hospital said they were relieved the number of layoffs was about what they expected based on last year’s state budget estimates.

Bangor City Councilor Joe Baldacci, a member of a 13-member ad hoc council committee that has been pushing to keep the hospital open, said the layoffs don’t indicate that the hospital’s future is any more at risk than it was at the beginning of the year.

After the press conference Tuesday, Shawn Yardley, Bangor’s director of health and community services, said, “As bad as this is, I’m breathing a sigh of relief” that the layoff numbers aren’t higher.

“We continue to express our belief that this is a critical resource for central and eastern Maine, and the entire state,” Yardley said of the psychiatric hospital.

Dorothea Dix, which has served 350 patients per year on average, is licensed for 100 beds but maintained only 65 last year. The center eliminated one of its four units and is now down to 51 beds, three or four of which are left open for emergency psychological care, according to Abernethy.

Despite the decreased number of beds, Abernethy said the hospital is on pace to admit more than 300 patients this year.

Abernethy said about 188 positions will be left at the hospital after the cuts are made final. The target date for the completion of the cuts is April 28.

The psychiatric center has been downsizing, merging and realigning services in an effort to save money and close the budget gap, according to Abernethy. But meeting the $2.5 million in cuts mandated by the state would have been impossible without eliminating employees, she said, adding that 80 percent of the hospital’s budget is made up of staff salaries and benefit payments.

With these layoffs, the hospital will meet its $2.5 million in mandated cuts, according to Abernethy.

“It will not be easy and it won’t be without a certain amount of pain, but we will do it and we will limit the impact to the extent that we can,” Abernethy said.

John Martins, spokesman for the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, said the layoffs at Dorothea Dix shouldn’t affect or alter operations at the state’s other mental health facility, Riverview Psychiatric Center in Augusta.

http://bangordailynews.com/2012/03/13/news/bangor/bangor-psychiatric-hospital-to-lay-off-45-employees-in-effort-to-close-7m-budget-gap/ printed on July 25, 2014