Delaware reports a record number of vacancies for state health, social service positions

More than 20 percent of jobs in the largest department in Delaware government are unfilled. State leaders hope better pay and funds for job training will help.

The Delaware General Assembly in session at the Legislative Hall in Dover, Delaware

Legislative Hall in Dover, Delaware. (Johnny Perez-Gonzalez/WHYY)

The state Department of Health and Social Services is a behemoth in Delaware government. The governor’s new budget proposal would spend $1.4 billion dollars on running the department in the coming fiscal year that starts July 1.

But in budget hearings last week, DHSS secretary Molly Magarik told lawmakers the department is struggling with record high vacancies.

Like many other employers, job vacancies worsened for DHSS during the pandemic. Prior to the start of the pandemic, there were about 500 vacancies in the department. That nearly doubled amid COVID-19.

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Out of 4,000 total positions, more than 900 are currently unfilled. That’s more than 20 percent of all DHSS jobs.

“We still continue to have record high vacancies,” Magarik told members of the Joint Finance Committee in Dover last week. “Really, our vacancy rate keeps going up and across the department.”

She said while nearly 23 percent of all positions across DHSS are unfilled, in some parts of the department that number is as high as 50 to 60 percent.

State Sen. Trey Paradee asked what DHSS was doing to help fill the gaps.

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“The folks where you really have a need are really the people that are on the front lines, people who were delivering services,” he said. “What can we do to help you?”

She pointed to Gov. John Carney’s plan to increase pay for workers across state government as part of the solution. That proposal in his $7.2 billion spending plan includes $149.7 million for raises of 3 percent to 9 percent for state employees.

DHSS is also working on a plan to provide state funded training for nursing assistants, paying them to get trained while they work.

“We hear frequently that these are lower wage jobs, and so to then ask people to come out of pocket, to go to school, to potentially work in a job that doesn’t provide them flexibility is setting ourselves up for failure,” Magarik said. “So we’re very excited about that.”

She said the department is also looking at possibly reclassifying some health care positions in the state to make the pay rates more competitive with hospitals in the state.

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