Tracey Sessions, the administrator at State Hospital South, is breathing a little easier after the Joint Finance and Appropriations Committee passed a budget which adds 10 positions for next year.
Before the vote, which passed 19-1, Rep. Fred Wood (R-Burley), a physician, told his fellow legislators that the major staffing cuts over the last few years put the hospital in danger of losing its accreditation.
â€śWe've cut 30 some-odd positions in the last three years out of State Hospital South,â€ť he said. â€śIf we don't get that staffing level up, we're going to jeopardize accreditation.â€ť
Wood and Sen. Joyce Broadsword (R-Sagle) crafted a budget proposal for the Health & Welfare Division of Psychiatric Hospitalization for next year that includes adding back 10 of those positions, most of them for direct patient care. They include one registered nurse, one physical therapist, one lab tech, four psychiatric technicians, one licensed practical nurse, one radiological technologist, and one financial technician.
All the money for the new positions would come from state endowment earnings that benefit State Hospital South; not from state general tax funds.
â€śWe feel this is on good ground and we should do it,â€ť Wood said.
That's the only addition to the division's budget for next year, other than $110,600 in replacement items, including things like new vital sign monitors for State Hospital South and a new 8-passenger van, exterior lighting and safety improvements to the patient seclusion room at State Hospital North. Overall, the division's budget would rise next year by 3.5 percent in state general funds over this year, 5.5 percent in total funds.
"This is a start in the right direction," Sessions said of the lawmakers' approval of the budget. "We're just doing the best we can right now."
Sessions said the State Hospital South should be able to hire the new personnel in mid-June since they wouldn't receive their first paychecks until July 1, the start of the budget year.
"We feel grateful for the help we're getting from the legislature this year," Sessions said.
(The Spokesman-Review in Spokane, Wash., which covers Northern Idaho as well as Eastern Washington, contributed to this report.)