Hundreds rally against GDC downsizing

Stephanie Filson Managing Editor

November 12, 2013

GALLIPOLIS — Recently, hundreds of current and retired employees, family members, community supporters, area labor representatives and local elected officials gathered in the Gallipolis City Park to demonstrate their support for the employees and residents of the Gallipolis Developmental Center (GDC).

Ohio Civil Service Employees Association (OCSEA) leaders and activists who work at the center staged a rally to protest the elimination of more than 25 percent of the staff and the moves of dozens of individuals out of the facility they call home. Administrators with the Ohio Department of Developmental Disabilities (DODD) announced the pending elimination of 80 jobs at GDC in mid-October.

Directly following the announcement, Ohio DODD Director John L. Martin told The Gallipolis Daily Tribune that the decision to downsize the state’s largest developmental center aligns with an ongoing statewide initiative to move away from long-term patient care solutions, focusing instead on short-term admissions whenever possible — an initiative facing a great deal of local, regional and statewide objection.

Rally attendance overwhelmed the staff and union leadership who were grateful for the broad community support.

“We are moved by the outpouring of support,” said Mitch Salyers, the local union chapter president at GDC. “There is one thing you can say about this community, when times are tough, we stick together.”

Speaking at the rally were Monty Blanton, OCSEA staff representative and 30-year retiree from GDC; Beth Sheets, OCSEA Board of Directors member and long-time GDC employee; Gallia County Commissioner Harold Montgomery and Troy Johnson for State Rep. Ryan Smith (R-Bidwell). The center also got wide support from labor groups that came out for the rally including members of the United Steelworkers, the Plumbers and Pipefitters, the United Food and Commercial Workers, AFSCME retirees 1184, Ohio Education Association and others.

“I’ve been committed since I left to make sure that every employee there and the people we take care of will have our community, our people there to make sure they are cared for the rest of their days,” said Blanton. “But the Department [of Developmental Disabilities] has a quite different approach.

“Even under the last administrations that we’ve had, they’ve always taken into consideration [the opinions of] the families, and they have never put them in a place where [GDC residents] were pushed out,” said Blanton. “They’ve always said that as long as the parents and their guardians wanted [residents] to stay there, they’d have a place to live. Unfortunately this administration has moved at a rapid pace of putting people out, many of whom have lived there 40, 50 and 60 years. We’ve been their caregivers for all those years. They [the DODD] have no compassion about the people who live there. … They have moved people out we have known our entire lives. It’s been a reckless operation with no true consideration for the best interest of the individual.”

In addition, the statewide parent group, the Ohio League, had a statement read in support of the center and asking for an immediate end to the downsizing. State Rep. Smith through his representative also called for an immediate halt to the admissions freeze and for the Ohio Department of Developmental Disabilities to take full responsibility for the downsizing and layoffs.

GDC is one of the largest employers in Gallia County with roughly 300 OCSEA members on the nearly $22 million annual payroll. One hundred residents call the center home. More than the fear of job loss, union activists fear that the loss of services for some of the most challenging and vulnerable residents in Ohio could have devastating results and mean fewer choices for families who need help.

Blanton said in the last two budget cycles, residents have been moved out at a rate of approximately 90 residents per biennium. He stressed that this is an alarmingly high rate with negative consequences.

“We can’t afford to move people out anymore,” said Blanton. “We are getting people back in horrible medical conditions.”

GDC and other Ohio developmental centers have been shrinking at unprecedented rates, even though the state budget doesn’t appear to be a factor. The national rate of downsizing is just five percent per year, but Ohio’s rate is more than twice that, and GDC is moving people out at three times the national rate. GDC has been downsized by 45 percent in the last three years, according to the OCSEA. Union leaders who work at GDC say the moves have gone far enough and have more to do with ideology than they do with practicality or safety.

Although he was unable to attend the rally, Ohio Rep. Ryan Smith sent a message through his representative Troy Johnson.

“Ryan wants you to know that he is committed to the long-term viability of the GDC in southeastern Ohio and will continue to fight for that,” said Johnson on Smith’s behalf. “That begins with opening admissions and getting the census numbers up.

“Many employees have reached out to Ryan, and he wanted me to stress how encouraging it was to him when it came to the character of those who have contacted him, because above all personal and financial loss, above all economic loss, the overwhelming concern that was expressed to him by you guys was the welfare of the clients, and you have put that above and beyond your own personal needs. I think that says a lot about each and every one of you,” added Johnson.

“Ryan wants you to know that as long as he is your representative, you will have a champion in Columbus fighting for the GDC,” Johnson concluded.