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Staffing shortages noted in health care Two department heads make plea for hiring

Staffing shortages that were kept off the table during budget talks last month took center stage Wednesday during a Human Services Committee meeting that followed a routine session of the Cattaraugus County Legislature.

Human Services Committee Chairman Jon K. Baker, R-Olean, invited all the legislators to attend the session, one he promised when department heads were told no new funding would be available for additional employees in the 2007 budget. Requests were renewed from two departments, and after more discussion behind closed doors, committee members said no immediate action to hire new staffers is expected.

The committee heard from Public Health Director Barbara Hastings, who addressed several problems with home care services.

The county provides acute care and therapy for about 360 homebound patients as well as for residents who receive long-term care in their homes under a Nursing Home Without Walls program.

Hastings said her department is facing staffing shortages that stand in the way of revenue increases.

The problem is apparent in the WIC and family planning areas, where there is a need for a full-time supervising community health nurse who could also help out in the home health aid program. There, she said, a primary concern is the quality of care the home care patients receive.

"We are in jeopardy of losing our home care certification," she said, pointing out that aides and nurses must make home visits according to physicians' orders and must be on call all the time.

The county has contracted with agencies to supply aides and nurses, but the county must send someone else if aides aren't available. Hastings suggested that having those contracts directly under the control of a staff supervisor could eliminate scheduling difficulties and patients would see fewer aides on a more consistent basis.

She requested placing 10 home health aides under a county contract to be supervised by a full-time county supervising nurse and hiring a part-time social worker.

She also requested filling two empty registered nurse slots, converting one keyboard specialist position to a registered nurse job and changing a part-time registered nurse to a full-time position.

Wendy Bourgeois, social services commissioner, also met with committee members and told them three to four child caseworkers are needed in addition to the nine workers already on staff who must handle the 1,350 to 1,500 child protection reports that come to her office each year.

She said she is hopeful that at least a minimum of two caseworkers could be hired, with the county eligible for reimbursement of 65 percent of the salaries of approximately $35,000.

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