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Burnout High at Department of Human Services as County Weighs in Cost of Living Adjustment • The Mendocino Voice | Mendocino County, CAThe Mendocino Voice

Employees of the Mendocino County Department of Human Services face high burnout and added workloads as nearly 30 percent of department positions remain vacant.

The county faces a slew of vacancies, some that have piled up since the pandemic and others that have been vacant since the 2008 recession. But among the county’s nearly 400 vacancies, the Department of Social Services has the more than any county department.

About 116 out of 420 positions are vacant in the social services department, director Bekkie Emery said. Many of them are entry-level positions that Emery said could be filled if openings were offered at higher salaries.

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These unfilled positions stretch existing employees as they work to meet needs. For example, Emery said, the department doesn’t have a single professional assistant — someone who drives children to court-ordered visits or to school — so existing employees have to step in to get the job done.

“When we don’t have staff to do it, we ask our social workers to do it or even our social workers if we don’t have enough social workers, who would otherwise do higher level work, like supervised visits. or other support services,” Emery said.

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When a social worker helps transport children to and from school or other visits, supervisors are called upon to make court reports and other responsibilities normally reserved for social workers, Emery said. And where supervisors have to perform the duties of social workers, managers often have to perform the duties of supervisors.

It’s a cycle that causes burnout within the department and often leads to even more vacancies.

“It affects the whole system…we can’t get out of this place where we are with over 100 vacancies because when we bring someone in, someone else because they’re exhausted” , Emery said.

Out of 116 vacancies, 21 are social worker assistant positions, 20 social worker positions, five professional assistant positions and two program manager positions, among others, according to data obtained through the California Public Records Act. Professional assistants earn about $16,200, according to a budget analysis released Wednesday by the county.

Vacancies affect the services the department can provide to the community, Emery said. State-mandated programs for which the county does not have staff are often contracted out to the department. Information on the cost differential between contract workers and county workers was not available at the time of publication.

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And non-mandated programs that would make the community stronger, she said, are often not carried out because they lack the capacity to do so. The department is evaluating preventive services for family and children — services that would prevent child abuse or prevent the need for social services in the future — but Emery isn’t sure she has the staff to put in place. such programs.

“You know, there’s state funding, there’s guidelines for that, it’s best practice,” Emery said. “It’s definitely recommended, but if I don’t have the staff to do the mandated and required work, I don’t have the staff to do the preventative services that could help us in the long run and help our community.”

Emery and his team strive to find new ways to recruit in social services. She said a job as simple as a professional assistant – someone who enjoys working with children and has time to drive them to meetings throughout the week – can lead to a long career in the workplace. social. The department offers supervised internships and helps employees earn a master’s degree in social work while climbing through the system.

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But recruitment becomes difficult when wages are low. A union representing county employees is in negotiations with the county to increase salaries by 5% across the board to combat high turnover and burnout rates among current county employees, such as those in the Department of Social services.

Service Employees Union International Local 1021 has been in negotiations with Mendocino County for nearly five months. The county remains firm on not raising wages despite workers’ claims that current wages are sometimes unsustainable.

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Mendocino County Deputy Chief Executive Officer Cherie Johnson did not respond to requests for comment on vacancies within the Department of Human Services as of press time.

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