SEIU protest
SEIU members protest for better pay in front of the state Department of Social Services building on Farmington Avenue in Hartford, Connecticut. Credit: Shana Sureck / SEIU

After a record number of health care workers are expected to retire this year, health care staff called on Gov. Ned Lamont to commit to filling 1,000 vacant positions by August 1 of this year. 

A record 1,137 state workers who notified the state that they will retire this year comes at a moment of crisis for Connecticut’s health services and the residents who depend on them, when facilities are already understaffed and demand for care has skyrocketed. 

During a press conference Wednesday, providers from Connecticut Valley Hospital, Capitol Region Mental Health Center, and others shared their experiences working in the public health sector over the last several years. The event was hosted by 1199NE, a democratic labor union for healthcare workers, and the state-wide coalition Recovery for All. 

According to a press release, the vacancies in the healthcare sector compromise care for a growing number of Connecticut residents who need affordable, quality mental health and addiction services. This had led to devastating outcomes including dozens of children stuck in emergency rooms due to understaffing at the state’s pediatric psychiatric hospitals and the closing of entire treatment units and facilities by the state. 

Becky Simonsen, vice president for SEIU 1199NE, said that the number of individuals who need mental illness or addiction care is the highest it’s been in over 100 years. 

“The current public health infrastructure, which is underfunded and understaffed, is not prepared to take on this current public health crisis in Connecticut,” she said. 

Simonsen also said the state is facing over 2,200 state healthcare vacancies, which is 25% of the healthcare workers that the state needs just to provide baseline services. The workers the state is missing care for the most vulnerable communities, including those with mental health issues, substance abuse, or developmental disabilities. Additionally, most of the individuals who need care are part of the most marginalized communities.

“Let’s be clear, this issue is a matter of life and death for the people of Connecticut” she said.

Michele Daniels, a health care worker from Connecticut Valley Hospital in Middletown, said that she provides services to people who are most marginalized, and her facilities are so understaffed that they can only open to half capacity. 

“The demand for our services continues to increase, and our needs continue to go unmet with reduced bed capacity and addiction services.” she said.

Rep. Quintin Williams, D-Middletown, who shared that many members of his family are health care providers, and the need to keep this industry staffed and funded is an essential issue.

“The fact that we have to have these conversations is incredulous to me,” he said.

At a Wednesday afternoon state budget press conference, Jeff Beckham, Secretary of the Office of Policy and Management, said that the legislature is looking to fill the vacancies.

“We’re working assiduously to fill the open vacancies, as you know we’ve had an unprecedented number of retirements this year due to some changes in the retirement benefits and that’s been a challenge for us all year with the current labor market and we’re working on that issue.” he said.