DHEC is laying off 45 employees

Director announces cuts in upper-level management, restructuring of agency

sfretwell@thestate.comJanuary 5, 2013 

Catherine Templeton director of S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control. 2012

— The S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control is laying off 45 employees and centralizing some services as part of an agency shakeup announced Friday by department director Catherine Templeton.

Many of the layoffs affect upper-level managers who work in regional offices outside the department’s Columbia headquarters. An email to DHEC employees said some of the personnel changes involved health division managers.

The layoffs, which had been rumored for months, sent ripples of concern through the agency’s workers, but Templeton’s email said those laid off could reapply for new jobs.

Templeton pointed out that DHEC would hire 68 people to fill different positions. The new hires, however, apparently would not command the same salaries. Her email said DHEC would still save $2 million when the new workers come on board.

DHEC, which oversees public health and environmental protection, is one of South Carolina’s largest agencies, with more than 3,000 employees.

In her email late Friday morning, Templeton also said the department would reorganize its offices, cutting the number of regional districts from eight to four and centralizing many programs, such as personnel and information technology. No services will be cut, she and agency spokesman Mark Plowden said. The email also suggested changes had occurred in the department’s coastal resources division.

Templeton, who took office in March after Gov. Nikki Haley championed her for the post, said the changes are warranted to make the department more efficient and less burdensome for citizens who need health and environmental services. The idea is to reduce management positions and increase frontline workers, Templeton said Friday night.

“This is all upper management,’’ she said in a voice message to The State.

Many of the changes resulted from discussions with employees, she said in the email.

“As I have traveled around the state listening to you, you have told me about the cumbersome processes and antiquated tools that complicate your jobs and compromise our services,” the email said. “You have been frustrated by the layers of management you have to go through to accomplish your tasks. You have expressed concern over the lack of direction from the central office and uniformity from region to region.”

The email went on to say that Templeton wanted to protect frontline workers. But she said “we have to eliminate self-created redundancies.”

Templeton’s latest announcement follows a series of shakeups at the agency. Soon after taking office last spring, she brought in a highly paid team of advisers and laid off workers in the department’s coastal division. Scores of long-time staffers then quit or retired, including its environmental chief and top lobbyist.

At the time, the move angered some state senators, who questioned her management style. But Templeton also has drawn praise for acting quickly on several local environmental issues, including a pollution cleanup in the Rosewood neighborhood of Columbia, and taking the lead to reduce obesity in South Carolina.

DHEC issues environmental permits for industries, monitors water and air quality, permits landfills, regulates hospital expansions and provides regional health services to those in need.

Through the years, however, the department has been criticized heavily for bureaucracy and its failure to move quickly on environmental and health protection problems. The State newspaper chronicled many of the agency’s missteps in a 2008 series of stories.

It was not known which employees will lose their jobs or face different responsibilities under Templeton’s plan. But three environmental and health supervisors no longer are part of DHEC’s eight-member executive management team, the highest-ranking employees within the agency.

Carolyn Boltin-Kelly, the agency’s coastal division director, is no longer part of the team, according to DHEC’s website. Also no longer on the executive team are Pam Dukes, a top-ranking health regulator experienced in nursing home care, and Lisa Waddell, the agency’s long-time top health official.

Other changes announced Friday by Templeton include:

•  Merging the agency’s environmental health division into the environmental services division

•  Centralizing the agency’s human resources, procurement, information technology and budget functions

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