Polk State Center under budget due to vacancies

Polk State Center is almost $5 million under budget compared with last year, mostly due to the low number of staff.

At Tuesday’s meeting of the Polk State Center Board of Trustees, Facilities Chief Operating Officer Heath Kalac said the center spent $4 million less than last year on personnel.

Operating costs also were also down, with a surplus of around $894,000 saved on the cost of running the facility over last year’s spending. That again, Kalac said, is due to the fewer staff members and residents.

The only area in which the center went over last year’s costs — by $987,000 — was in overtime. That again, explained Kalac, was because of the low number of staff members among whom to spread out hours.

“The sheer number of vacancies we have is why we’re $4 million under budget on personnel,” Kalac said. “In the last six months we’ve lost a lot of personnel.”

Acting Facility Director Sue Rodgers shared the update on staffing, as well as COVID positivity rates, which again have shut down the family visiting program for Polk residents.

“Since the last meeting, we had been doing very well,” Rodgers told the board. “But in the last two weeks we’ve seen a significant uptick in positive cases.”

The total, Rodgers said, was 11 staff positive in the past 14 days. At least three, Rodgers said, had been symptomatic at the time of their positive test.

Ten of those staff members, Rodgers said, were unvaccinated. All but three residents are fully vaccinated, Rodgers said, and “fortunately, no (residents) have tested positive since May.”

“Due to the number of positive cases and the county positivity rate now, over 16%, we’ve had to stop family visits again. We hated to do it, but we have to get this back under control.”

Lori Furman, of Polk Center’s human resources department, told the board that as of Tuesday there were 163 total vacancies.

“We continue to struggle with hiring like everyone else in every other industry right now,” she said.

The center has, however, taken advantage of the lifting of its hiring freeze, which happened in July, to hire two new social workers, a speech and language specialist, several food-service workers, and custodial staff. It’s also been able to fill one cohort of new aide trainees, who started in the middle of August. Another full cohort just started, Furman said.

Additionally, Furman reported, seven retirees have returned to the center to help lighten the load, and four more are in process of returning.

And, Furman said, about five past employees have asked to have their resignation rescinded or their transfer reversed in order to return.