DHHS to close three offices for at-risk babies and toddlers, eliminating 173 jobs

The state health agency plans to close three Eastern North Carolina offices that provide services for developmentally disabled infants and toddlers, a move that will eliminate an estimated 170 state jobs by July.

Documents obtained by N.C. Policy Watch show that budget cuts prompted the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services’ Early Intervention Program to call for the closure of three children’s developmental services agencies in New Bern, Rocky Mount and Wilmington.

The state agency will expand an existing contract with East Carolina University’s School of Medicine to continue providing services to families in the 21 affected counties, according to a Feb. 10 strategic plan written by Dr. Robin Cummings, the state’s acting health director, and obtained by N.C. Policy Watch.

ECU already has a contract with DHHS to provide early intervention services for several counties in the Greenville area.

A question and answer document provided to staff emphasized that services would not be interrupted for families.

“Services for infants and toddlers with disabilities and their families will continue, and again, we want that to be as seamless as possible,” the DHHS advisory to employees stated.

The upcoming closures in New Bern, Rocky Mount and Wilmington will mean job losses for 173 DHHS employees, who were informed Wednesday about the closures. The new ECU contract is expected to create 150 jobs that laid-off workers are encouraged to apply for, but don’t have any guarantees of being hired, according to DHHS documents.

The state currently has 16 child developmental service agencies (CDSAs) around the state (click here to see locations), that assess and provide services to children under the age of 3 with developmental delays. All but four of the CDSAs  are state-run.

The three soon-to-be closed offices provide services to families of disabled babies and toddlers in 21 eastern counties – Bladen, Brunswick, Carteret, Columbus, Craven, Cumberland, Duplin, Edgecombe, Halifax, Johnston, Jones, Lenoir, Nash, New Hanover, Northampton,  Onslow, Pamlico, Pender, Robeson, Sampson and Wilson counties.

Cummings, in his memorandum to early intervention staff, said services in the 21 affected counties will be shifted to Greenville because of continued budget cuts from state leaders coupled with a state government hiring freeze that leaves therapist and staff positions vacant.

The state budget passed last summer called for $18 million in cuts over two years to the federally-mandated early intervention program that screens an estimated 10,000 children a year at 16 children’s developmental service agencies statewide. Additional services, such as physical and speech therapies, are also provided to children that have developmental delays or other issues that threaten cognitive health.

The program is facing $10 million in cuts for the fiscal year beginning this July.

“The program has, however, experienced multiple reductions in state appropriations over the last several years and will sustain another very substantial reduction in 2014-15,” Cummings wrote.

He added, “State and contract CDSAs are all doing very well in serving infants and toddlers with disabilities and their families; the only discernable difference between them that we find is that contract CDSAs are able to have a much lower vacancy rate,” he wrote.

Deborah Carroll, the head of the N.C. Infant-Toddler Program, referred questions about the closures to DHHS communications office.

DHHS’s communications staff, had not returned phone calls by Monday afternoon seeking comment about the early intervention office closures.

 

Cummings Memo by NC Policy Watch

6 Comments

  1. love my state

    February 17, 2014 at 4:22 pm

    early intervention is a critical service that works – this is beyond ridiculous!

  2. Concerned mom

    February 17, 2014 at 7:30 pm

    The early intervention program helps thousands of children in NC. This is a unique program in that your income does not determine your eligibility. The program helps families with children with disabilities even if they aren’t at the poverty level because the program understands that middle income families need support and information about their chikdren’s needs too. Because of EI, children often “catch up” by the time they go to school instead of beginning school so far behind developmentally that they end up never catching up. So sad that the state decides to cut this program every single year by millions when it is one of the few in DHHS that can prove it’s effectiveness with solid data. Even sadder that DHHS doesn’t do more to fight to maintain funding when it is one of the few things that are going right there despite lack of support and funding from those in charge.

  3. Confused taxpayer

    February 18, 2014 at 8:27 am

    I don’t understand. If this is for the good of the agency why are the cuts only in the eastern part of the state?

  4. Gene Hoglan

    February 18, 2014 at 10:59 am

    Look on the bright side. Those job creators got their tax cuts, which is truly the most important thing here.

  5. Gene Hoglan

    February 18, 2014 at 11:02 am

    Confused Taxpayer: the kind of people who are most likely to need services for at-risk children in Eastern NC aren’t exactly a natural constituency of the current party in charge, if you catch my drift.

  6. nc voter

    February 20, 2014 at 10:14 pm

    Are there really only 5 people who care about this? Is there any way for this transition to be seamless and who believes anyone in DHHS?