Somerset —The news isn’t good for a large number of Bluegrass Oakwood employees, who are expected to be receiving the proverbial pink slip due to the Commonwealth’s budget crunch. Shannon Ware, executive director of the Bluegrass Regional Mental Health-Mental Retardation Board, which oversees operations at the Oakwood mental health facility in Somerset, confirmed that as many as 53 employees are being let go, with those notifications having started going out Thursday. “We’re very disappointed and upset about this,” said Ware. “Anything we do, whether cutting jobs or cutting back operations, our number one priority is still to run a safe, excellent facility. It’s going to b tough, but it’s what we will do.” This isn’t Bluegrass Regional’s doing — it’s the state’s. Ware said this is a part of Kentucky’s “overall budget shortcomings” — which probably would have been the case regardless of the controversy over Medicaid funding in Washington that could have ripple affects at places like Oakwood — and that the state was “pretty late in getting all their contracts negotiated,” meaning that the new contract for Oakwood’s budget wasn’t about to be signed until the first week of July. “That’s why it took us a while to figure out what we needed to do to meet the cuts,” said Ware. Oakwood isn’t alone — cuts are being made at similar facilities around the state, Ware said. “The governor has cabinet secretaries looking to trim anywhere and everywhere.” That means personnel won’t be the only area where Oakwood is affected. Ware said cuts will be made in any area of the facility’s operation that can stand it. “Anytime you run a big facility, that’s where the big costs are (in personnel),” said Ware. “You can only trim operations so much.” Yet because Bluegrass Regional has done just that, it’s kept the number of layoffs from being worse. “If a job turns over, if it’s not on the list to be terminated, if it turns over through natural attrition, we’re looking at it to see if it’s one we might not have to refill,” said Ware. “We don’t want to do anymore layoffs than we absolutely have to. Cutting 53 jobs is not great but number is not worse because we’re trying to achieve rest of the savings through attrition.” Currently, Oakwood employees about 1,000 people, said Ware, who treat and care for 150 developmentally disabled clients who live on campus, and others who come to it to receive medical and other services. That personnel number doesn’t even include specialty contractors, many of them having had their deals be frozen or cut. Retirement is also a problem, said Ware — ”The match that Kentucky employers have to pay went up 16 percent,” she said. “That’s huge.” The total cut amounts to about $3 million out of Oakwood’s regular working budget, which has been in the vicinity of $70 million in the past. Ware is quick to assure people that, given Oakwood’s troubled past, this doesn’t mean the facility is in any danger of shutting down. “It’s easy for people to become alarmed because of the history of Oakwood, but this is more a part of the climate of the economy,” she said. “It’s very unfortunate. ... (but) I think we’re tightening our belt now at beginning of the fiscal year. We’re going to go on and do everything we think we have to do so that the budget is stable the rest of the year.”
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