Gov. Mike Parson is running out of time if he wants the Missouri Legislature to pass his state worker pay increase proposal by the end of this month. He is requesting a $15 minimum wage and a 5.5% cost-of-living increase for all state workers.

Missouri has about 54,000 state workers and is one of the lowest paid state work forces in the nation.

Valerie Huhn (Photo courtesy of Missouri Department of Mental Health)

The governor’s effort is meant to help battle a severe state staffing shortage, including within the Missouri Department of Mental Health. During a Missouri House Budget Committee hearing, Director Valerie Huhn said mandatory overtime is leading to a greater number of employees quitting.

“Part of what we need is the ability to get people back into the facilities so that we can stop requiring so much overtime – so that people can have some semblance of life left, some semblance of time with family. All of those things right now are really hard to come by if you work for us and one of our facilities,” she said.

Huhn saidthe staffing struggles have led to Fulton State Hospital in central Missouri freezing services and closing a 25-bed unit there.

“We have 154 people that have been assigned to the Department of Mental Health psychiatric facilities,” she said. “Sixty-six, and I’m going to be off one or two on those numbers, but 66 people who’ve been determined incompetent to stand trial and are waiting for an order to come to the Department of Mental Health being signed by the court, and right now we don’t have a place for them.”

She saiddelaying the implementation of the governor’s pay raise risks losing additional state employees who are leaving largely due to all the overtime.

Huhn said she would rather spend dollars on permanent staff instead of contracted staff. Contracted workers cost the state more money.

“It is an emergent issue for us at this point. For the first time, we will be spending more on contracted staff in our facilities than we’ve ever spent before,” she says. “We’re actually to that point now and we’re above what we’ve spent on contracted staff in the past and it’s January. I don’t have the January invoices yet. We are not doing everything that we need to be doing to support the individuals in our facilities at this point. The other advantage to having staff that are in the facility that are familiar with the individuals we support is they do a better job of supporting those individuals. So anything we can do to address turnover with pay and less overtime will also help us improve the quality of services we can deliver.”

According to Huhn, state benefits do not help in recruiting new staff – the take home pay does.

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